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Exclusive God Save The Sex Pistols Interview
February 2012

Questions posed by Phil Singleton
Above: Jonh in Paris with Siouxsie, Steve Severin and Johnny Rotten

Jonh Ingham's place in the Sex Pistols story remains absolute.

He was the first journalist to interview the band. Jonh's iconic feature appeared in the April 24th 1976 issue of Sounds and opened up the band to the world. For the first time we got an insight into the personalities, the manifesto, and a glimpse of a scene on the cusp of an explosion.

A further piece in Sounds by Jonh in October showed how dramatically the scene had progressed during the summer of '76, and wrestled with the term that was now bestowed upon the movement; 'punk'.

Jonh witnessed historic moments in the Sex Pistols history: Lesser Free Trade Hall, Chalet Du Lac, and Winterland. He put up the bail for Sid Vicious following the 100 Club glass throwing incident and was the first to review The Clash and The Damned, witnessing The Clash's first ever date at Rehearsals Rehearsals.

Inspired by punk, Jonh crossed the divide from journalist to instigator; shaping and launching Generation X.

Jonh has rarely spoke about his time at the forefront of a musical revolution. Until now.

God Save The Sex Pistols is proud to bring you THE Jonh Ingham interview.

Above: Jonh in Paris with Siouxsie, Steve Severin and Johnny Rotten

Phil: You moved to London from Australia in 1972 initially to attend film school. How did you become a music journalist and did you already have a passion for rock ‘n’ roll prior to arriving?

Jonh: Actually, first I moved to Canada and then the USA for my teenage years. We moved down the West Coast through the '60s until we stopped in LA. I was a fan of rock and roll from the moment I heard it - especially Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and The Everly Brothers. There were also one-off explosions like 'Tallahassee Lassie' by Gary US Bonds which in many ways pre-figured the energy of Punk...two minutes of pure excitement.

We moved to North America just as the so-called British Invasion happened which was perfect timing. The radio was a constant stream of British groups, Motown, and the American answer to the British groups. Plus there was Hullaballoo and Shindig on TV, so you could see them as well! There was no segmentation of music then - it was either on the radio or it wasn't; The Temptations would come right after The Yardbirds which followed Frank Sinatra. And it kept getting better and better. It was incredibly exciting - it's almost impossible to explain the effect of hearing 'My Generation' or 'Satisfaction' or 'She's A Woman' for the first time when NO-ONE had made these sounds before and both the present and the future felt like the most amazing places to be in. Again, there were these amazing, explosive records that seemed to come from outer space; The Wailers 'Dirty Robber', The Sonics 'She's A Witch', The Seeds, Count Five, and ? (question mark) and the Mysterians all made a huge impression on me.

When psychedelia happened we were in California, so I got the whole West Coast/San Francisco blow up pretty well full frontal. I was spending all my money on records and starting to see any group that came to town. I came across 'Rolling Stone' about issue 10, and after a while it dawned on me these people were getting their records for free. That seemed like a great idea to me, so I talked myself into a job reviewing records with the local paper. By now we were in LA and while I didn't get many freebies, it did get my face in the door of the companies down in Hollywood. I started going to an arts college called Cal Arts and one of the elective courses was Popular Culture, taught by Robert Christgau, a rock critic for The Village Voice. At the first class he handed out a bunch of records and the assignment was to review it. At the next class he told me I had the seeds of a talent to write about music and if I was interested he would teach me. Over the next year he helped me find my voice, introduced me to Greil Marcus - who gave me a lot of encouragement - and opened the door for me at CREEM and other magazines. The other invaluable contributor was a screen and science fiction author called George Clayton Johnson. He wrote 'Logan's Run' and the original film of 'Ocean's Eleven'. Among a lot of valuable life-lessons he encouraged me to find a pen name that people would remember. 'No-one's going to remember plain 'George Johnston' when they see it on a screen...'

Your prominence as a writer grew quickly via freelance work for, amongst others, the NME. Which interviews from the pre-punk days are you particularly proud of?

My favourite is probably going on the road with Queen in Wales. 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was breaking very quickly and the group were incendiary. The shows, in small theatres, were near-riots with rows of broken seats afterwards. I think I captured the excitement of a group becoming stars (photographer Kate Simon's pictures also looked fantastic). The other two are seeing Wings play at Wembley and watching MacCartney handling how to be one of the most famous people on the planet, and my report on seeing The Rolling Stones in Frankfurt and watching Keith devour a mountain of powder afterwards. By then I'd been seeing The Pistols for a few months and it was revelatory how complacent - and bad - The Stones were and no-one seemed to get it.

What led to you working for Sounds as a staff writer as oppossed to the NME?

Freelance writing is not a way to make a living wage! After doing stories and reviews for the NME and starving I spent almost two years doing Press at EMI and Island, but wanted to go back to writing. I tried to get a job at NME. They had an incredible group of writers with Nick Kent, Charlie Murray, Ian MacDonald and the others and in my eye I thought that my addition would create an unstoppable force. They said no. Unfortunately, I hadn't yet worked out that sometimes you have to persuade others to share your vision! In 1975 the original staff of 'Sounds' left more or less en-masse to start a magazine, so there were vacancies all-round. I applied for a job.

Was the competition fierce between the different journalists and between the different music papers? I imagine the trick is to court the current big stars while at the same time, hopefully, discover the next big thing?

The papers were certainly competitive. I remember NME having an exclusive on reviewing Patti Smith's 'Horses' (around which there was a lot of expectation) and I got hold of an advance pressing. Sounds trumpeted my review on the cover, just to rub NME the wrong way. They definitely weren't happy! Writers were competitive but also friends. After all we shared obsessions about many of the same groups. We were often in buses or flying to to gigs together, spending hours and days in each other's company. It's hard to be standoffish when you're sharing spliffs. I don't think most of the others were that focussed on the next big thing. I got into it because I started getting really bored by what the 'superstars' were putting out and how thin and ordinary a lot of new music was. This was about mid '75. So I started spending a lot of time in clubs and pubs looking for something fresh. I learned that greatness is a rare commodity!

Sounds was a fairly recent addition to the market (launched 1970) and was in the ascendancy during the mid-late 70s. Did this make it a good publication to be working for when punk emerged?

At Sounds we were lucky to have Alan Lewis as an editor. He was constantly looking for angles that the other papers were ignoring. One of the writers was Geoff Barton, who was really into metal and hard rock (he later started Kerrang!), so Sounds was giving big coverage to Purple, Kiss, Budgie, etc. when they were largely ignored in the other papers. Both MM and NME had already dismissed the Sex Pistols, so when I talked to him after seeing them for the first time he made me interview them - long before I would normally have done it. And then he let me run with it. So yes, it was a very good publication to be working for.

When Alan Lewis asked you to go and interview the Pistols on the basis of you having seen them the once, you must have been quite enthusiastic about the band? Were you surprised he told you to go and interview them so soon?

I was really surprised that he wanted an interview immediately. When I went to the office after seeing them I was telling him about it and he kept looking more and more amused. I couldn't figure out why and when he said to do a story I protested that it was much too soon. When I asked why he replied, 'How long have you been talking about them?' Turned out I'd been going on for about 10 minutes. This seems to have been a common first-time effect. Later in the year I kept hearing about executives who would normally talk about a band for a minute or two going on for 15 minutes.

How did you first hear about the Sex Pistols and where did you first see them?

I saw the NME Marquee review, where Paul was quoted 'We're not into music, we're into chaos.' Which I thought was really funny. It was the name that got my attention - the best name I'd seen in a very long time. The kind of name that promised something. Since they weren't a regularly playing band I couldn't find them in gig listings, so it wasn't until Malcolm called the Sounds office that I made contact. The first time I saw them was at El Paradise.

What impact did the gig have on you personally? Did you think 'this is interesting, a bit different', or was it more a case of 'I’ve just seen the future'?

I did think 'I've just seen the future', but not in an I'm-going-to-change-my-life kind of way. (That came later!) They didn't look like anyone else and they didn't sound like anyone else and that was the important thing. Johnny was still quite amateur as a performer but he looked the part and had the right charisma for the part. Most of the songs sounded the same but they had substance.

I was equally fascinated by the audience members who looked like the band. Fashion is equally as important as the music in rock and roll, which everyone forgets when they engineer groups. The Beatles/Stones/Kinks etc. looked unlike anything else when they broke. Dylan didn't just make rule-shattering records, he looked like a rock god. Queen looked like they sounded. The people standing in front of the Pistols - who looked unique - were dressed in a way that marked them as different from everyone else. It was obvious that this wasn't going to be more of the same.

Siouxsie Sioux, Viv Albertine and friends parade their unique fashions at Notre Dame Hall, London
Siouxsie Sioux, Viv Albertine and friends parade their unique fashions at Notre Dame Hall, London

Did you approach the meeting with the Pistols with any trepidation? Or, as a seasoned journalist, were you quite relaxed about it?

Well at first it was just another story. Malcolm made me meet him first, where he espoused his manifesto. Since most of it sounded like my own thoughts I started to get really interested in what might come from the interview. He told me to meet them at a certain time and when I showed up he was alone with Nils Stevenson and said I was late and the band had got bored waiting and left. It wasn't true and seemed juvenile to me but let it go. We rearranged to meet on Denmark Street a few nights later and I showed up 30 minutes 'early'. Everyone was there minus Johnny, and Malcolm started the 'you're late' routine again. I told him to shut up and the band laughed. It was like an audition test. We did the interview in the upstairs room at the Cambridge Arms, the pub on Cambridge Circus.

I was very relaxed about it, until Johnny came in about halfway through with two girls and sat down in a chair about 15 feet away. They had been talking about him in the third person and continued to do it after he came in. That was odd. He must have been there for at least 10 minutes without saying anything. My first words to him were 'Well they've been telling me what you think, what do you say?' He just launched into the tirade I quote in the piece, all at incredible speed. From the corner of my eye I could see everyone staring at me, waiting to see what I would do. It was equal parts intimidating, impressive and funny. When he stopped I just burst out laughing. Then he went back to ignoring everyone and talking to his friends. How could you not be impressed?

What preconceived ideas, if any, did you have about them as individuals – were they, by and large, what you’d anticipated?

Well a good interview is about getting people to talk about themselves so I was usually neutral in approach. With the Pistols a lot of the questions were just to get their story. In many ways it was like a conversation in a pub - we liked a lot of the same music, so there was common ground pretty quickly.

April 24 ‘76 issue of Sounds
Sounds April 24th 1976. Jonh announces the arrival of the Sex Pistola with his iconic headline

The interview, published the April 24 ‘76 issue of Sounds, proved to be their first ever press interview – an important moment for the Sex Pistols themselves. Did you sense the band were well aware of seizing the opportunity to put their manifesto across? John came out with some unforgettable quotes, quite unlike anything we’d heard before....

Oh, the obvious manifesto stuff just sounded stupid. At one point Steve said rather proudly 'We don't take drugs' and my immediate thought was 'yeah, let's see how long it takes to get a spliff in your mouth'. Which wasn't that long actually. All the anarchy and chaos stuff was so ill-formed - a bunch of meaningless headlines. Growing up in the US, I'd been through all the Revolution rhetoric - riots, serious police brutality, students being killed - to be impressed by what was obviously Malcolm's fantasies. John's quotes were his own thinking and that was the difference.

How influential was Malcolm during the interview? I get the impression he was never too far away, keeping a watchful eye on proceedings.

He put across his own agenda clearly in the piece – his wish to be the catalyst of a new and exciting scene. Like John, very bold statements. Malcolm made a few comments but mostly he just sat and watched. Nearly everything he said was directed about building a new scene and in me he had a willing marketeer. That's probably the main reason why the interview has the slant it has. I wanted a new scene as much as he did. His basic theme was to do the opposite of whatever was popular, which seems almost too simple to be true, but of course if you're aiming at an audience rebelling against their parents or conformity, what's the best target to choose?

Interesting that you mention the contrast between Malcolm’s fantasies and John having his own opinions. Was a tension already in evidence between the two?

All the band bitched about Malcolm right from the beginning, mainly because he never gave them any money if he could help it. It's safe to say he ran Glitterbest (his company) as an idea rather than a proper manager/artist business. John's differences didn't surface until later.

What was the response from the Sex Pistols camp when the article was published?

The next time I saw them was at The Nashville gig (April). The group were very friendly and one of them may even have said thank you!

In retrospect, it proved to be a pivotal piece of writing. What was the immediate reaction from the 'rock public', such as the Sounds readership and your fellow journalists? There must have been those who took a dim view.....

The first feedback was from a manager called Bryan Morrison. He was courting me with a group called Doctors of Madness but also 'mentoring' me in a sense...I think he saw me as a route to talent. He had been involved at an early stage with Pink Floyd and The Bee Gees and claimed to have discovered Free. I took him to The Nashville gig and he was adamant that if I kept promoting the group it would ruin my career.

I wrote two more live reviews over some two months and people started saying 'How's YOUR group The Sex Pistols?' and I realised the effect they were having - far outstripping their actual standing. That was when I knew I was right. Later into the summer and autumn I started getting quite influential people quietly taking me aside and advising me that if I didn't drop Punk that it would be bad for my career. At the same time, people would come up to me in Louise's and tell me how much they liked the writing and how they were now a punk. That was great to hear. I listened to the fans and ignored the business people.

How did your relationship with the band develop over the following months? Did you spend a lot of time with them, or get close to any of the band or entourage?

I spent a lot of time with them in that I was going to all the gigs and hanging out at Louise's on weekends. The people I connected with most were Nils, photographer Ray Stevenson and writer Caroline Coon.

What did you make of them during this period as individuals and musicians?

Watching them grow as musicians was a lot of what made them compelling. Glen and Paul were already pretty forceful but once it gelled Steve really grew fast in skills and technique. One week it would all be feedback and noise, then the next gig would be clean picking. At Manchester he put it all together and it was stunning. As John learned his stagecraft the band just grew in power. Like any great band figuring it out. As individuals they were all pretty normal, plus John. (Ha ha!) John veered from sullen to very friendly and he wasn't shy in stating his opinions.

Both Manchester shows at the Lesser Free Trade Hall (June & July) are legendary. Which one did you see?

The second one.

In addition to the Pistols being stunning, do you have any other memories of the occasion; performance of the other bands, audience etc?

I have a lot of memories of this night - it's etched into the brain in great detail. I really liked The Buzzcocks - the songs, the attitude, the fact that they were different again to the other bands. Plus they did a Captain Beefheart song! Pete Shelley's guitar was missing the top half of the body - he'd thrown it against a wall in rehearsal. That stood out. The end was great too, when Howard pulled all the strings off the guitar.

The audience was quite interesting - quite restrained. At first I thought it was because they didn't know how to react, then I decided it was like a bunch of students in study hall! You know: 'hmmm, how do we do this?' The Pistols were just incendiary. This was the night it all came together and they turned into a blazing, brilliant band. It was the first night they played 'Anarchy' - there was no warning on that one. It was in the middle of the set and just started without any intro. When John started the list of acronyms I turned to look at Malcolm - he looked completely stunned. By now the audience was going pretty nuts and at one point a long haired guy went bounding down the centre aisle in huge kangaroo bounds.

Even though the Pistols were largely unknown before you interviewed them, did you find it extraordinary that they were already having trouble getting gigs? What did you attribute this to?

London's Burning. Clash fanzine compiled by Jonh
London's Burning. Clash fanzine compiled by Jonh

I never did figure out why promoters took such a negative view about them right from the beginning. Even before The Nashville incident (fight involving audience and the band 23rd April) Malcolm was having trouble. I think partly because from the beginning they didn't fit the expectations of what a band should look and sound like. All the publicity that came from The Nashville gig definitely hurt them with promoters and agents.

From Malcolm bemoaning the lack of a suitable scene to you in your Sounds interview, the 'punk rock' scene began to develop quickly over the summer. Suddenly there were other bands around which to rally. You were first to review The Clash and The Damned. How did you view the 'competition'?

Well I was up for any band that could come and make the scene bigger. Eater calling me up and inviting me to a rehearsal was tremendous...another band! I saw The Damned's third gig and it was quite extraordinary. They didn't rehearse (as a philosophy) so everyone was playing at a different beat, but the energy and sound, plus Vanian's presence, was fabulous.

The Clash's first date at Rehearsals Rehearsals was a revelation. It fit more into what a rock band 'should be like', but the speed they played at, how they looked, and the song titles and lyrics was just overwhelming. I never thought of any of them as 'competition'...this was about creating a scene. I was quite surprised when Malcolm started dissing both bands - it took awhile to learn that he had relationships with both Bernie Rhodes and Andy Czesowski (The Damned's manager) and his views were about them. Malcolm had the illusion that he would control and own the entire movement....

In September you went to Paris with the Pistols for the Chalet du Lac trip, the band’s first trip aboard. That must have been exciting. How was it?!

That was quite a weekend. John showed up in a bondage suit - first outing for that. He was also wearing a beret and looking very pleased with himself. The gig was OK - not brilliant. The best moment was at Deux Magots cafe in the afternoon. We all somehow gravitated there by telepathy, so that over about an hour there were more and more of us. The Parisians hadn't taken to the way we were all dressed, so as more and more of us kept arriving we were getting increasing amounts of attention. You could feel a weird sort of energy simmering around us, ready to break. John arrived last, swishing up with his hands on his hips, beret and Ben Franklin sunglasses. The place just erupted, with people leaping up from tables to take photos and gather around and stare at us. It was a great moment.

Were the French punters appreciative?

Well on the first night they got in free and were basically a disco crowd. So they didn't know what to make of the band. Within that there was a small group of early French punks. Marc Zermatti had a shop and label called Skydog, who were really into the Velvets, Stooges and Dolls, so there was already a small underground.

In October your Sounds feature 'Welcome to the (?) Rock Special' appeared. It was notable for embracing the scene yet at the same time refusing to use the term 'punk', hence the use of the (?) in the title. Why was it important to you to move away from the term 'punk'?

'Welcome to the (?) Rock Special'
Sounds October 9th 1976. Johnny Rotten pictured in Jonh's 'Welcome to the (?) Rock Special' feature.

Well, as I said in the piece's intro, Punk was a genre of 60s American garage bands like Count 5, Shadows of Knight, and ? and the Mysterians. Being pedantic, I didn't think this new sound fit the genre. I also felt a new type of rock music should have a new name. In retrospect it seems funny that the right name was so important.

You pointed out that the differences between the bands were gratifying, allowing them to be judged on their own terms. You've mentioned Eater, The Damned and The Clash. These were ground breaking times. Did you anticipate an exponential explosion of such diverse sounding new groups?

No one could have predicted it would happen as fast. Without the Grundy episode it would have been more like a year for Punk to become a tidal wave. The speed at which it happened after Grundy just shows how pent up the desire was for something fresh that could be made and owned by young people.

Fashion, which as you mentioned previously is an important part of rock ‘n’ roll, was prominent in the article with particular emphasis on Siouxsie. Looking back, there has never been anything so extreme. Was there a sense that punk fashion would shake the establishment up irrespective of the music?

Well let's be honest - for most people punk was a black bin liner and some safety pins. Not many people could afford Sex/Seditionaries fashions, so you knew who the rich girls were! You saw a lot more people wearing Boy since they were punk fashion on a budget. Vivienne Westwood would probably have become as important as she is in any case - a true original. There was talk in the latter part of 1977 that someone was offering to back her in a shop on Bond Street, which was her aspiration all along. But shake up the establishment? No more than Gaultier did or Zandra Rhodes.

How far did you feel punk fashion ended up affecting the mainstream, obviously flares disappeared eventually?

Well overnight it marked out territory. Nearly all the young designers of that period were heavily influenced, which then filtered into the mainstream. When we went to Paris we met Jean-Paul Gautier - he had a meeting with Malcolm, so he was already clued in to street fashion that early. In general, I would say that punk fashion - or at least the idea of straight legs/short hair vs flares/long hair - definitely marked whether you were involved in 'today' and 'now'.

Amazingly, at the time of the article, there were still no records released by the UK punk groups – The Damned’s debut was still a few weeks away. Was this a hindrance, or perhaps the lack of output added to the mystique?

Not being able to slap a record on definitely added to the mystique. That's why hundreds queued up for the 100 Club Punk Festival - you had to see it to hear it. For me the amazing part was that the first punk records - The Damned, The Buzzcocks - were so damned good. It set high standards right away.

Did you get to see the Pistols on the Anarchy Tour?

I saw the last night of the tour. It was not a great night.

Why was it such a contrast to the Manchester show in the summer?

The weather for one! It can't be underestimated how important the weather was in the Summer of '76, as Jon Savage writes about in his book. It was really hot all sumer long, which elevated everyone's mood. Manchester was on a warm evening. The Anarchy tour was wet and freezing cold. Also the sense of being under siege was very strong. Every newspaper was full of 'The Punk Menace To Our Kids'. You could see in everyone's face how wearing the whole experience was.

In hindsight was the Grundy episode a good or bad thing ultimately for the Sex Pistols? Some have commented that it took away the time they needed to develop.

I think the Grundy episode was very counterproductive. Without that overnight exposure Punk would have spread naturally through out 1977 and probably have taken the whole year to become a national and international phenomenon. Would The Pistols have developed? Hard to say, especially with a loose cannon like Sid on board.

You helped Sid out personally following the 100 Club glass throwing incident. How did events unfold and why did you the feel the need to help him in such an unselfish way?

I was standing next to Sid when they surrounded him, picked him up and hustled him out of the club. It was done with no warning and they said nothing to him - just physically picked him and hustled him up the stairs to a car. It was an illegal arrest and I have a problem with authority acting outside the law. Regardless of his guilt or innocence, I was determined the police had to answer to their actions, so I put up bail.

Fortunately a couple of years earlier I'd been an expert witness for the defence when the Crown tried to find Frank Zappa guilty of obscenity at one of his concerts so I knew from that how to keep testimony flowing and not dry up on the witness stand. I was first to testify and Sid told me afterwards my testimony pretty much demolished the prosecution. I basically called the police version of events a fabrication, which it was. I still don't know if he was guilty or not. As far as I know the girl who was allegedly injured has never been identified.

What was the feeling both within the Pistols camp and the music press following the Bill Grundy publicity?

Well you had all those idiotic responses like Phil Collins saying he could play with one hand tied behind his back and still play better than the Sex Pistols. Which missed the point entirely - or more to the point, highlighted the necessity of Punk. The funny thing is how the explosion of ideas from Punk kicked even the old guys into new creativity. Would Phil have been as creative in the early '80s without Punk? The drum sound on 'Against All Odds' for example... it's a very punk way of thinking about drums. The Pistols were under siege and it showed. Amazing that people could get so exercised and up-in-arms over 90 seconds of television. It shows to what depth people felt threatened by what they perceived Punk to be.

The press tended to react according to whatever they were thinking before Grundy night. I took a few colleagues down to one of the last 100 Club gigs and they all said 'for the first time I feel old'....these were people in their early 20s! Then there were friends at EMI who were at Notre Dame Hall who said 'this is just what we need'.

Did your own involvement with the Pistols change once they were in the full glare of the national press - up until now the band had been confined pretty much to the music press?

My direct involvement pretty much ended at that point. I saw them in San Francisco at Winterland and then saw John later in Hollywood when he was dealing with Warner Music, his US label.

The Winterland show – that’s quite something! How did you come to be there and how was it for you?

My Mum lived in LA and - weather again - I was really sick of English winters. No-one had central heating and everyone just froze for months on end. I went out to LA for Christmas to enjoy some sun. My best friend worked at Warners so he got us tickets to Winterland. What a band may perceive and what's going on out in front can often be different things - I thought they were excellent. Winterland was quite full - San Francisco has always been open to new music - and standing about 3/4 back, I was surrounded by all sorts of people really getting off.

Did you pick up on the negative vibe around the band at Winterland?

I was hearing stories from writers who were on the 'tour party'. But apart from John's closing comment, nothing was obvious.

In terms of punk rock in general, which personalities on the scene in '76 did you think had the potential to go all the way and become rock ‘n’ roll legends?

Well I didn't really think of it in terms of becoming 'legends'. I thought the Pistols and The Clash would become big internationally, because they were both so good. With The Ramones 'Leave Home' I thought they made one of the best albums ever and their Roundhouse show was simply unbelievable. I saw them later in LA and they were even better - they should have been huge like Van Halen were huge. I always liked Talking Heads but never thought about them being Top Ten successes, as they did become.... but they were my ideal band - arty, smart, funky, challenging. I was always curious what personalities like Catwoman or Jordan would do. Nowadays they could carve careers for themselves as 'celebrities' if they wanted to....those options weren't as readily available then, but they were such strong personalities that doors were open for them if they wanted.

I imagine plenty of journalists who had previously ignored the Pistols now wanted a piece of the action. Did you feel vindicated by being the first to champion them?

Oh I felt stupidly proud. And still do.

Am I correct in thinking punk affected your career direction - I was referring to the fact you went into band management with Generation X?

Generation X. Rehearsal early 1977
Generation X. Rehearsal early 1977

Well the day after the Notre Dame (15th November) gig I collapsed my lung. It's fairly common among tall thin people and it put me into hospital. So I watched the Grundy episode and the Fleet Street reaction from a ward on the Brompton Road. Sid and The Clash and friends came by so I was getting a pretty up to date view of what was going on and one night I started thinking that having helped kick start things, a smart person would capitalise on it and do something. I started thinking about doing a record company like Rough Trade, or managing a band... At the same time an old friend came by and said he wanted to manage a band, so that's what we did.

What drew you to Generation X?

Well I knew and liked Billy. And when I stood in front of bands at gigs and analysed them, Generation X looked best, had the best songs, and had a great guitarist, (Bob 'Derwood' Andrews).

Any stand out moments of your time managing them?

Plenty! There was a lot of plotting to get the look right and work through the songs. A great week in Paris playing a club - down and out in Paris is not shabby! When we auditioned new drummers there was an amazing guy that played like Keith Moon...probably my favourite 10 minutes the band ever played... but they had already decided on Mark Laff. Plotting the record deal and then negotiating it was major fun - a six month campaign that would have satisfied Machievelli... the band signed one of the biggest deals for an unknown band up to that time. We were schmoozing three record companies simultaneously and on the last morning we went to Chrysalis, then visited Virgin and they thought they had the band. Then we went back to Chrysalis and agreed the deal. We were barely back at our office when a telegram came from a very pissed off Branson. We sent one back telling him he needed to learn from this if he wanted to sign Punk bands!

This great week in Paris – any further information?!!!

The band played for a week in a club and we stayed in a decent hotel. In Paris. So we ate great, had nice sheets, saw the sights and got to upset people by looking as we did. I never got over how carving your own fashion path could get people so angry. Billy and Tony (James) were in the same room and half the time probably sharing the same 'girlfriend'. Meanwhile Mark and Derwood were moaning for 'real food' - baked beans or chips! The last night we got paid about £3,000 in cash and went to eat at a place in Montmartre. I well remember putting the stack of bills on the table and just staring at it. It was about 4 fingers high.

Generation X cut some great records and made it onto Top Of The Pops a few times, yet are often overlooked. For you, what were their greatest achievements?

The first Marquee gig was awesome. We soundchecked and then went to eat. When we came back there was a line all the way up Wardour Street. Completely unexpected but I realised that with the Pistols and The Clash off the road, we were the next band and for a lot of people this was probably their first punk gig. In the summer we did a residency - every Wednesday for four weeks. That was awesome. 800 people every week, with sweat rolling down the walls. Ray Stevenson's backstage shot comes from one of those weeks.

During sound check the band used to muck about and play tunes like 'Paranoid' and 'MPLA'. Word got out and there would be about a dozen hardcore fans show up to hear the cover songs. The Roundhouse sticks out as well. That was when Derwood smashed his guitar during the encore. I was in the wings and the stage manager was going mental at me for the band being so unprofessional. I was trying not to laugh - this guy would have told off Pete Townshend - because it was more fun to agree with him and I was telling him I was going to give the band a stern lecture when they walked off stage right in front of us and he started in... Billy gave him a really vigorous V sign and told him to 'fuck off', just as DJ Andy Dunkley was saying how exhilarating it had been!

We did TOTP because in our view it was better to subvert from within. If you want to change minds why not go on a show that reached millions? The band didn't compromise themselves and if we reached new converts we had a result.

Did you stay with Generation X right through to the end of their Gen X incarnation?

I stopped working with them in Jan '78 when I moved to Hollywood.

A random question here: Of the bands mentioned so far, can you give me your favourite track from each, based on a personal memory?

Sex Pistols. That's a hard one. The intro to 'Anarchy' is one of the greatest of any rock song ever. But overall..... 'Pretty Vacant'. 'Anarchy' didn't really get played, 'Queen' was banned but 'Vacant' was all over the radio. I was in a garage getting my car fixed and it came on the garage radio, just booming out of big tannoy speakers. It sounded huge and swaggering, just the way it should.

The Clash. I couldn't pick a favourite track by The Clash - too many memories and too many different reasons. As an album 'London Calling' still sounds spectacular. I'll choose 'The Right Profile' off that. But 'Julies In The Drug Squad', 'Safe European Home', the live version of 'Armagideon Time' that's on the back of a 12-inch, 'Magnificent Seven', 'Jail Guitar Doors', 'Radio Clash' has a fantastic riff and concept, even if they couldn't figure out how to end it. My memories around all of these are mostly to do with listening to the albums. In my opinion they were the last original rock group (in that they had a first-hand listening connection back to the earliest rock 'n' roll singles) and they did a spectacular job of it.

The Damned. Got to be 'New Rose'. It was the first obvious hit when they played it live and it sounded fresh and urgent as a record.

Ramones. Well they only did one song didn't they! (laughing). Anything off 'Leave Home' would be a favourite but I'll give special love for 'Commando' - 'First rule is....' - that's genius songwriting. The Roundhouse gig in '77 remains in my top 2 or 3 all-time best shows.

Billy Idol
Billy Idol

Generation X. 'Kiss Me Deadly' off the first LP is pretty special - got all of Billy's ambitions into it and some great guitar playing. It's all the conversations around tables and in vans about the records he and they wanted to make finally achieved. Post Gen X, 'White Wedding', 'Rebel Yell' and 'Eyes Without A Face' are three world class records. People laugh at Billy, but those records hold their own against anything.

You left the UK and your journalist routes behind after Generation X. Why did you come to this decision?

I couldn't stand British winters! There was no central heating in those days and it was a lot colder than it is now. I had always wanted to get into the film business, so that and the weather was why I went to Hollywood. A clear January day in Hollywood and you could see 50 miles and it was 25 degrees...perfect! On the writing front I was burnt out. I did some writing in LA, but my attention was focussed on film making. And then I started working with LA punk bands - ha ha!

Have you had many encounters with your compatriots from the early punk days in the intervening years? Had punk been a positive experience for them long term?

I've seen very few people. I've run into Glen Matlock and seen his new band. Jon Savage I talk to and see fairly often. I've contributed to the new book he's doing on the aesthetics of 1976 - it's fascinating, with some very rare photos and posters in it .I spent some time with Joe Strummer a couple of years before he died, which was wonderful. He'd started Strummerville and was in really good spirits. I think by and large Punk has been or was positive for them.

What are you currently doing?

I've just left a company I started that created an online talent contest called 1Click2Fame. We got some very talented winners from it, but the music business is a very very difficult place to work in at the moment - it's not 1977 - 1982 again. Currently I'm working on a new company that lets artists understand where they're popular and who their biggest fans are. To me, this is where the new punks are - creating cutting edge software in ways we haven't seen before and breaking rules.

A couple of questions to wrap things up: Punk Rock – how did it change you personally?

It supported my beliefs about myself and gave me the confidence to take the path I did.

Finally, Punk Rock – was it all worth it?

Oh, most definitely.

Jonh Ingham, thank you very much.

Malcolm McLaren, Steve Severin, Nils Stevenson, Caroline Coon, and Jonh Ingham 1976
Malcolm McLaren, Steve Severin, Nils Stevenson, Caroline Coon, and Jonh Ingham at Louise's 1976

Text © Phil Singleton & Jonh Ingham / 2012
Photographs © Jonh Ingham and are reproduced in the feature with Jonh's kind permission. Paris picture © Ray Stevenson; Louise's © Bob Gruen.
Please do not copy.

God Save The Sex Pistols ©Phil Singleton / 2012

God Save the Sex Pistols

God Save The Sex Pistols ©Phil Singleton /