GOD SAVE THE SEX PISTOLS SUPER DELUXE BOX SET REVIEW
Well, there’s just so much to take in – it can’t be done in one sitting, which is exactly what a Super Deluxe Box Set retailing at £100 should be.
First, the 100 page 12” x 12” 1977 diary. It seems strange to use the word “beauty” in relation to the Sex Pistols but 1977 The Bollocks Diaries is an item worthy of such an accolade. With its glossy presentation and many unseen pictures, posters etc, it is a joy to behold. In fact, I feel as though I need to wear cloth gloves when handling it, to avoid any finger prints. It belongs in the British Museum.
The fold out NMTB poster is lovely as well, as is the replica A&M God Save The Queen. Just think, Universal own A&M these days, so surely this is a GSTQ A&M original?!
The above, along with the reproduction NMTB stickers and copy of GSTQ hand written lyrics, makes it all highly desirable. But what of the music? This has to deliver if the box set really is as “Super” as it claims.
Firstly, Disc One: Never Mind The Bollocks. At last, a true re-mastering, and it shows. The album has always sounded like a Chieftain Tank, only now you can hear the mechanics in action as it roars into view. Try listening both with and without headphones - both are spectacular. The backing vocals benefit as well as the guitars and drum sound, with subtleties detectable like never before. Same goes for John’s vocals. Submission and New York particularly caught my imagination.
It is important to remember that this is not a re-recording, nothing has been tampered with. What we have here is the best possible sound gleaned from the master tapes. It still sounds like NMTB should – and it is essential that it does. It’s tempting to say it sounds “fresh, like it was recorded in 2012”, but it has always sounded fresh. What is certain is that it will never sound better than it does here. This mastering will ensure it still sounds fresh in 3012.
Disc Two promised much, and proves the jewel in the crown. The 1977 B-sides start proceedings and have been given the same treatment as NMTB. No Feeling, the flip side of the junked A&M GSTQ does, at last, sounds like it should – it’s never before been quite right on any outing – other than on the original A&M.
The Dave Goodman demos from January 1977 follow. Dave was known for tinkering with his demos. Lord knows why. They are punchy and direct, and feature some expert musicianship and inventiveness from Steve, Glen, and Paul, much of which was lost on previous “versions” of the demos. Once again, New York was a highlight for me. Proof positive that untouched original classics should not be messed with.
Disc Two cranks up yet another gear with the Chris Thomas demos and outtakes. Mind blowing stuff. Presented in chronological order of recording (EMI recorded In April now finishing with “Goodbye A&M”), this disc shows the band’s use of the studio developing as they hone their sound to perfection. From the alternative vocal tracks of Did You No Wrong (“my wet head”), Seventeen (“tell me your secrets do”) and Satellite, through the rough mixes on show, it’s all terrific, and (with one exception) previously unreleased.
Did we ever think we would hear two new mixes of Holidays In The Sun, one a rough – but stunning - take, with the song clearly in an early stage of development? Same goes for Body. Oh my. The lyrics differ but are just as scary as the NMTB version; "it was killed for a minor fee". A band argument also follows the track!
The surprising thing is that the recordings are good enough to release as the Pistols debut LP. Most bands would have settled for this. Not the Pistols. Funny that. For a group not supposed to care – they did when it came to creating a musical legacy built to last. Forward thinking from the boys. Also nice to see the original song titles from the time of the demos retained: Unlimited Edition, No Future and Body – nice attention to detail.
Belsen Was A Gas has of course been made available online – so everyone has had an opinion. The main disappointment is the vocal track which is almost inaudible. Sid does a good job with his bass performance, following Steve note for note, almost. Anyway, there it is, make of it what you wish. It’s certainly better to have it than not.
Basically Disc Two is a fan’s dream. It’s been in my CD player/iPod constantly and I love it. If you don’t, I’m so sorry, nothing will be good enough. It’s magical. Thank you Universal!
On Disc Three we have two soundboard recordings from summer ‘77, the ideal time to capture the band during such a turbulent year. Sid is at his peak in terms of performance, pounding away – it leads to a very compact sound. Although too rudimentary for the studio, it works in claustrophobic club surroundings; brutal, intense, and at times disconcerting. Wasn’t that the Sex Pistols in 1977? The Trondheim show was previously available as part of the limited Kiss This box, back in 1992. A further 2 decades has passed since, so it makes a welcome return here.
One week later - 28th July - the band was captured in Stockholm. This recording brings back so many memories for old time bootleg collectors. Released incomplete many times over the years, here we have the full concert which includes No Feelings and No Fun, (both missing from the vinyl bootlegs). The gig serves as reminder that away from the mayhem back in the UK, the Sex Pistols could breathe and show what a tremendous live rock and roll band they were, notwithstanding Sid who doesn’t let his band mates down.
Disc Four – the DVD. First up: the Riverboat Party footage in perfect condition. If it was an event taking place in recent times, the full show would have been recorded from multiple angles and so forth. But the filming we do have captures the spirit of the day, from the paranoia, the blistering performances in cramped confines, through to the Police bringing it all to an end. Doesn’t it just show how loathed the band were at this time? Don’t the Police overreact to a band playing music on a river? Perhaps that is what makes it all so encapsulating and poignant. Everything the Pistols stood for, and the threat they posed, is here in this film.
Also in perfect condition, is film of the Pistols in Stockholm. The six songs caught on film from 28th July have been around for decades in various Nth generation bootleg copies; New York & Seventeen have previously showed up as extras on the NMTB Classic albums DVD. Now we have it all together – it will forever remain the best filmed document of the Vicious line-up delivering the goods in 1977. Close-up - excitingly filmed - with great sound, it just had to be included in the box set.
A real treat are the three songs recorded at the Winter Gardens, Penzance, during the SPOTS tour. Again it’s hard to fault the performance of the Pistols, it is epic stuff. By late ’77 the audience were well and truly acting like Daily Mirror Punk Rockers, flicking endless V-signs at the camera. Much more importantly, the band is incredible. Again.
The newly compiled Holidays In The Sun video is expertly edited together from late ’77 footage, making it an authentic addition to the established videos for GSTQ and Pretty Vacant. Watching this on TV with the sound turned up makes your hair stand on end. Another triumph.
Interestingly, the DVD disc also pulls together audio only interviews conducted during 1977. So why choose these particular interviews? The Heyday Interviews conducted by Judy Vermorel in August 1977 are important for many reasons. They were recorded to form the basis for Fred & Judy Vermorel’s authorised book on the Sex Pistols, originally called simply Sex Pistols (Star Books 1978). It was the only biography put together during the band’s short career, and consequently the questioning is not provocative, but seeks to delve beneath the surface for all the right reasons – to let us know the truth behind their story. The interviews with John, Steve, Paul and Sid, first saw the light of day back in 1980 as the unofficial Heyday cassette released on Factory records, and then in 2003 on CD via the Boutique Label, this time including the interview with Glen.
You may or may not have these, but either way, as part of the 1977 theme of the box set, it’s nice to have them included. The famous BBC Radio 1, Rock On, December ‘77 John Tobler interview with John and Sid is here as well, and for the first time in a full, uncensored form. We can now consign the badly edited, butchered versions to the back of the cupboard, if not the bin. If you’ve never heard it, this review will remain spoiler free, just bear in mind that a month later the band was no more.
So, is it all worth it? When Universal took over the Pistols catalogue I feared a rehashing of everything the average fan, let alone the hardcore collector, would have in their possession, with a few novelty incentives thrown in.
Thank God, Universal have not taken the easy route, they’ve taken the hard one. The Pistols don’t come cheap, and UMC have wisely invested a lot of resources into this project.
Mixing NMTB from the master tapes is what we’ve always wanted; now we have it. And it’s bloody good. But it is the appearance of the genuinely unheard demos and mixes on Disc Two that lifts this collection into the stratosphere. The discovery of these tapes represents the Howard Carter / Valley of the Kings moment for Pistols fans. It won’t happen again, just be glad it did. And enjoy it. Even the Dave Goodman ’77 recordings sound fab now.
The live audio and videos have been presented in the best possible condition; in as complete a form as is (now) known to exist. Let’s not forget the new Holidays In The Sun video, another indication of Universal’s commitment.
I’ve hardly touched on the lavish 100 page Bollocks Dairies, or the A&M single. These alone would make the package worthwhile.
What do you mean you are still undecided? For crying out loud, buy it and embrace it. Now.
Review by Phil Singleton