Biggs, one of the Great Train Robbers, speaks to TIM LOTT from Rio.
Biggs under his new
guise as punk poet talks about his work with the Sex Pistols.
ANSWER to) A Hacks Prayer by Tim Lott
save the Great Train Robber
out of her Majestys reach
hes not making punk rock records
lounging around on the beach.
save the Sex Pistols
in the top twenty this week
using cheap gimmicks to hide
fact that theyre well past their peak.
save tasteless lyrics
shift a lot of wax
save cheap profiteering
on by media hacks.
save Malcolm McLaren
knows how to make his bread
save the Great Train driver
too late, hes dead.
as a literary statement, is about as profound as anything Ronnie Biggs can manage.
I, of course, am one of the media hacks referred to. Who can deny it? My claws
are right up there, scratching McLarens back, provoking weals of profitable
any journalist who would turn down the chance to Interview Ronnie Biggs, one of
the Great Train Robbers albeit over a crackly London to Rio telephone line
would either be exceptionally stupid or revoltingly moral. I am neither,
being merely unashamedly curious.Ronnie
Biggs, the only one that got away on any permanent basis, is curiously enough,
my second acquaintance among the Great Train Robbers. Charlie Wilson an
infinitely more important figure in the robbery than Biggs, chatted to me in his
Reading prison earlier this year, after he set up a Steve Gibbons concert there.
is a rock n roll fan. But he sat still through the set. Prison has
knocked the stuffing out of him, say his friends.The
same could not be said of Biggs. Also a pop fan he claims to like The Ramones,
David Bowie, The Incredible String Band (!) and of course, the Sex Pistols - Biggs
is currently relishing his new status as a pop star. Its very nice,
he proclaims, modestly. Feels pretty good.
those of you whove had their heads in a bucket over the last couple of weeks.
Biggs is the lead singer and lyricist of No-One Is Innocent, A Punk Prayer
by Ronnie Biggs a. k. a. Cosh The Driver (the latter title which
he denies having anything to do with). CBS refused not unreasonably
to press the single under the title of Cosh The Driver and it eventually
reached the shops as No-One Is Innocent -Even
so, the lyrics are dubious enough for the single to have been banned by just about
every radio station in the country. And its not only the big chain stores
that arent stocking copies.
prior to my phone call to Rio, Malcolm McLaren, that magical manipulator of moolah,
was desperately trying to ascertain why the single couldnt even be found
in Virgin Records stores that week despite the fact that the record is,
of course, on the Virgin label.Despite
these mysterious stumbling blocks, the single is selling a lot of copies,
and, rather inevitably, generating large numbers of pound notes. It is inarguable
that a massive number of these sales come from the fact that the Pistols, with
No-One Is innocent have reached the frontiers of irreverance and toppled
over into rather questionable taste.
maybe you consider these lyrics perfectly innocent. Ronnie certainly does - The
less offensive verses have been omitted
the Nazis on the run
wasnt being wicked, God
was their idea of fun.
save Myra Hindley
save Ian Brady
though hes horrible
she aint what youd call a lady.
save our friends the pigs
save ldi Amin
God save Ronald Biggs
per se, appears to be an exoneration of some peculiarly nasty activities. Like
torturing children. Like gassing Jews. Like slaughtering unfortunate Europeans.
that in a sense is just what it is,
Punk prayer, says Ronnie, Is at least half serious. It isnt
just a joke. I put a lot of my sentiments into it.
its in bad taste or not depends how you look at it. Lots of things are in
bad taste There are people who just dont appreciate the lyrics.
message of the song is simply this: If God is going to save The Queen, then he
should save Myra Hindley. and Martin Bormann and Ian Brady. He has to save everybody
or nobody. Because, no one, absolutely no-one, is innocent.
says that the song has religious overtones and believes that there
is a religious message implicit in it.
degree of your sin doesnt matter; makes no difference whatsoever. Everyones
just as bad or good as each other.
is a convenient enough theory when youre a criminal on the run for one of
the biggest robberies in history.
punk prayer was cut after the Sex Pistols were banned from playing in Finland.
Jones, Cook and McLaren all admired Biggsy, and a phone call from
Malcolm secured what turned out to be a welcome visit.
Pistols rang and said theyd like to visit me. Nothing was said about a record.
Id heard God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols some months before
when an English friend of mine played it to me. I didnt hear the lyrics
properly, but I thought it made a great sound. Anyway.. I said Id love to
have them come and see me. Paul and Steve both being Londoners like me, we got
on really well, Theyre both wholesome blokes.
it turned out surprise, surprise that the Pistols happened to want
to do some recording In Rio. And guess what?
In the studio in Rio: Cook, Biggs, Jones, McLaren)
said I thought it would be fun to sing on the record, and they agreed. The only
singing Id done before had been in pubs. They always threw me out on my
ear, because I was no good
if Ronnie was no good as a singer, why did the Sex Pistols make a single with
him? Clue: it wasnt because of his talents as a lyricist.
written some poetry anyway, so I asked if they would like me to write some lyrics.
They said yes, and A Punk Prayer was the result.
insists that his motivation for playing with the Pistols had nothing to do with
his financial solvency. Four times, he repeats that he did the record just
have no idea what I stand to make out of the record. I have been given no money
upfront. I havent had any royalties yet.
have high hopes that I stand to make a great deal of money. But Ive been
involved in so many rip offs, so many promises that havent gone right
that I take everything with a pinch of salt now. I dont need the money desperately:
but it wouldnt come amiss.
now Her Majestys Government may well do their bset to prevent Biggs reaping
any reward from his hit record, since such a payment would amount to aiding a
criminal on the run, which, under the English legal system, is forbidden.
such efforts, luckily for Biggs, may not be good enough, since Malcolm says he
can pay the train robber via his American company.
the money that Biggs stands to make out of it, the absentee convict has some reservations
about the way he has been marketed.
had no idea that It had gone out under the title of Cosh The Driver.
The record makes no reference to the coshing. I wouldnt go along with
anything like that. That would be in very bad taste.
sees himself as something of a willing pawn in a cut-throat industry,
record has a certain shock value. But I am not one of the big wheels that put
these things together. I am happy to go along with the mechanics of the industry,
shock value or otherwise,
for those of you who are wondering and there must be a few why,
if Biggs found the exploitation of the dead train guards death so unappealing,
did he dress up for a photograph in such an aposite pose, knuckle dusters bared?
werent knuckle dusters. It was a dog collar. I was just dressing up as a
declared sensitivity seems rather pale when it turns out that he has re-written
the lyrics of Belsen Was A Gas, which is to be released as the follow-up
to No-One Is Innocent.
connoisseurs of fine poetry, we reprint the lyrics below. The first verse is retained
in the original, composed as it was by John Beverley a.k.a. Sidney Vish. The remainder
is written by Ronnie.
was a gas / I heard the other day / in the open graves / where the Jews all lay
/ Life Is fun / Wish you were here / they wrote on postcards / to those held dear
/ oh dear,
search their teeth for gold / frisk the Jews for bank notes rolled / when they
found out what they got / line them up and shoot the lot / be a man / kill a man
/ be a man
wonder what the Jews would say / if I told where Bormann was today / would they
start a vendetta? / youd better ask Ernie Ledbetter / Leadbetter. (sic)
apologise for being unable to reveal the identity of Mr Ledbetter but I didnt
get to read the lyrics of Belsen until after speaking to Biggs.
insists that he isnt just cashing in on a very sick episode in history.
Was A Gas was already recorded by the Sex Pistols before I got involved
with them. Anyway, Belsen was a gas. People got gassed.
was an attack on the people who perpetrated those outrages. It isnt defending
them in any way.
you find the idea of a criminal profiteering from his notoriety a bitter experience,
then prepare to choke back any bile you have left. Ronnie Biggss association
with the music business is far from over.
only is he intending to perform live onstage in Rio, but he has now composed a
concept album which he is determined to get recorded and released.
have agreed to appearing live with the Sex Pistols. No other train robbers will
be making guest appearances.
have also been approached to do more records, and Id very much like to.
I have written a punk rock opus about my experiences in prison, which the Sex
Pistols will back me on.
opus will also include songs about famous villains. Ive written a song about
cant play any musical instruments, so his efforts at the moment will be
confined, thankfully, to vocals. He tells me that his son in Australia is a pretty
adept musician, and that maybe hell take some lessons from him next time
much Ronnie is pulling mine and thus, your leg throughout this chat
remains to be seen. I should imagine that Biggs value to McLaren will be
severely diminished after the novelty value of the one record has worn off.
It does not seem very logical that even the Pistols would go to the crass lengths
of making a concept album with their new friend.
I shouldnt think Ronnie gives a toss. If Malcolm has exploited him, then
the reverse is equally true.
interview concludes in the spirit it started and I sense, continued: tongue in
very much looking forward to appearing on Top Of The Pops.
which note this feature would end, were it not for a quote that probably sums
up the Biggs / Pistols connection more succinctly than reams of copy. Biggs is
in fact referring to Brazilian jazz music, of which he is a great fan. But even
taken out of context the irony of the statement is inescapable.
are a lot of things in Rio that need to be exploited.
of them, of course, being Nazis and criminals on the run.
Mirror, July 15th 1978)
OVER MY PUNK PRAYER
Ronnie Biggs wrote a line God Save Martin Bormann in a song for the
Sex Pistols, some people were nauseated.
Biggs says: My object was to show that if we are going to make a better
Christian society, we must start with some basic doctrine like forgiveness.
wanted to call it A Punk Prayer but the groups manager retitled it No One
Is Innocent. The record was made when we were a little drunk, in a studio in Rio
with a priest present. He enjoyed it. Even if we were out of tune.
liked the boys. I related to them because they were working class, fun-loving
Londoners who spoke my language.
dont think were vicious or anarchic just outrageously commercial.
though I was promised £30,000 for writing the words for two songs, I only
made Top Of The Pops, but I was ripped off.
(The Sun, February 6th, 1981)