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CLASSIC GIGS 1996HY LUCRE 20th anniversary tour



  A personal account by Phil Singleton (written in 1996)

Steve Finsbury ParkThe story began March 18, 1996. After months, nay years, of speculation, the announcement was made. That lovable group of no good low lifes, equally vilified & celebrated, were back, the Sex Pistols. Yes, they were older, fatter, skint. Yes, Society's Protectorate were not amused, & yes, even some rock 'n' roll purists were offended, ("it won't be the same as in 1977"). Whatever, the Press were full of it. They made "News At Ten". The Sex Pistols are still news. Still sell. Bottom line. Like it or not.

Finsbury Park, London, 23rd June 1996. The homecoming. The Filthy Lucre Tour had begun. In just one performance, the band would be seen by more people than in their entire previous career, 30,000 fans. The size of the concert had drawn predictable criticism when announced, "Does this mean you're a stadium band?" asked one. "Finsbury Park is not a stadium. It's a field." mocked John Rotten.

Twenty years had passed since the group exploded onto an unsuspecting, lethargic, flares wearing public. 1976. The year of the long hot summer, of the drought, the water bans, the sunburn. Strange that today should be so reminiscent, as if recreating those hot, sticky, gasping conditions. The time travelling experience did not end with the weather. Punks everywhere. Young, old, babies with mohicans. Punks at the train station, lining the streets, falling out of bars, blocking the traffic. Punks making their way to their place of worship, to behold the second coming. So strange, so at odds with what the group had stood for. But today was not a day to theorize, it was a day to savour. To be there.

Mid-day & the gates were open. It was a festival, make no mistake. Stalls lined the park, selling burgers, beer, tie-dye shirts(!), drug paraphernalia. Have your body pierced, do a bungey jump. My God! Is this Woodstock '96? Mustn't theorize, just savour. Buy the £5 programme (& find Sid Vicious written out of the history of the group). Great nonetheless.

Check out the T-Shirts. Major disappointment. Standard "God Save The Queen", "Never Mind..." designs. Expected something more, ah well. Time to sit on the grass, soak up the sun, & check out the supporting cast.

Eight bands had the arduous task of keeping us entertained for the afternoon. 3 Colours Red, Fluffy, Stiff Little Fingers, 60FT Dolls, Buzzcocks, Skunk Anansie, The Wildhearts, & finally the Godfather of punk himself, Iggy Pop.

Late afternoon. The open spaces were receding, people already jostling for position for the evening mass. The anticipation was mounting, an undercurrent of tension almost tangible. The sun which had baked us so mercilessly was bidding farewell, the cooling down process enhanced by the increasingly inebriated crowd throwing half-empty (thankfully plastic) glasses at, well, anything/body. Punk rockers have seemingly come of age. Spitting is out, drink tossing is in.

An inspirational, yet nostalgic performance by Iggy had filled me with hope. If an old croc could still cut it, the Pistols, well, maybe, just maybe....

The atmosphere changed again. Unreal, surreal, almost dreamlike. As the band's equipment was set up, an amplifier was moved into position, the words "Sex Pistols" stenciled across it. I shivered. It's happening.

The stage disappeared behind a huge paper curtain, a collage of tabloid headlines circa the "Bill Grundy Incident". The crowd became restless & anxious, a mixture of nervous excitement & disbelief.

The PA then pumped out a 70's pop song, then another,& another. Abba, Bay City Rollers, you name it. Unrest dissolved into laughter as punks-a-plenty joined in a communal sing-song. Ah, I thought. Brilliant! It's a reminder of how awful the music scene was pre-Pistols. A recreation of the conditions that resulted in the Pistols coming into being. Was I alone in thinking this? I looked around. Punk Rockers were singing "Dancing Queen". Today wasn't a day to theorize, it was a day to savour. To be there.  

England football stars, Stuart Pearce & Gareth Southgate appeared on stage. "Who said there were no more heroes?" mumbled Pearce, "Ladies & Gentlemen....the Sex Pistols."

The group burst through the paper curtain to rapturous applause."Are you ready?" enquired Johnny. We had to be. The group launched into a terrifying "Bodies". A whole damn field went crazy. 30,000 people spanning more than 2 generations, punks, straights, hell! - a mobile phone could be seen held aloft! - all singing, all committing a breach of the peace on a massive scale. The crowd surged, people fell, they ran, they tried to run, they danced, they surged again. Hang on, ride with it & hope you come out the other side.

One song in & a great sense of relief could be felt. They were good, very good. My god, they're still vital. Johnny Rotten sensed this too. "Any journalists out there?" he taunted, proud of his band's opening salvo. Steve Jones simply asked the audience to give journalists "A good hiding". Keep it basic Steve.

They looked the part as well. Johnny Rotten, determined not to disappoint, had a new hair-do on show. Easy to copy. Shave sides, dye green, spike a la Bart Simpson. A check suit completed the ensemble. Steve Jones, guitar, L.A. rock ligger, bleached hair & leopardskin lame trousers. Paul Cook, reliable, steady behind his Union Jack drum kit. Glen Matlock, bass, appearing not to have aged during the 19 intervening years between his Pistols duties, casual in jeans & T-shirt.

Two songs in & the crowd were actually enjoying the show. "Fat, 40 & back" John was in self-mocking mode. It was cabaret. The fun continued, "You fat bastard" we sang in honor of Mr. Rotten's girth. "Don't be naughty" sparred our hero. Hero? Yes, don't deny it. People were smiling, happy, at a Sex Pistols concert. Don't look for explanations, juxtapositions. Don't theorize me! Enjoy! We've waited close on 2 decades for this moment. Right or wrong, right now, we just don't care.

Sure there were no surprises. Note perfect renditions came & went. The adrenalin which had all but exploded from the crowd at the start had left us drained. "You seem a bit tired" said John, almost expressing concern. The feeling of danger had disappeared as well. The pogoing was replaced by bopping on the spot, but hey, most of us are not teenagers anymore.

The songs kept coming, "Pretty Vacant" sounding even more powerful than on record, its sing-a-long-a-bility causing a second adrenalin rush. "They only did it 'cos of shame" spat Johnny as "EMI" closed the set. The crowd caught their collective breath. No time to relax, we wanted more! We demanded more!

"How can we resist that?" asked Johnny as the Pistols emerged, refreshed, ready to thrill & insult us some more. "We have an old song some of you old tossers out there might remember." "Anarchy In The U.K." & 30,000 pairs of fatigued legs went crazy. Not as crazy as before, but not far short. A tight sounding "Problems" followed & off they went. Sex Pistols fans are persistent. We called for one final look at our heroes. We got it. "No Fun", all 7 glorious minutes. It dipped, it soared, it lifted & finally dropped us. It was over.

The crowd dispersed, contented, as they made the journey back to their normal lives, taking with them a slice of history. Let the theorists theorize, let the purists ponder. Good concert? A concert? Not sure it was. An event? Yes. Good? SENSATIONAL.

Review added 23rd June 2006 (10th anniversary)


They got pissed and were destroyed by Denis Decay

I first heard Anarchy in the U.K. on Swedish radio in November 1976. It sent shivers down my spine, and I became a Pistols fan from that day on. My friend, being Norwegian and not so steady on either the English or Danish language, had recorded it on a cassette. He thought the band was Danish, until I pointed out to him that this was the most genuine British rock I had ever heard. The radio presenter finished off with the following words; "That was the Sex Pistols. And who knows; maybe they represent something new in rock music?"

Within a year I was living in Cornwall. From here I was often on the phone to various venues in Plymouth. Rumour had it that the Sex Pistols were heading down our way, although none of the venues would confirm any secret dates with the band. The booking agent at Wood's in Plymouth ensured me that he'd get back to me on the 'phone if he managed to book the Pistols. He asked me to leave my number. The bastard never phoned me up again, and to my horror and great disappointment I later found out that the Pistols played a secret gig at Woods in Plymouth on 31 August as "The Hamsters". The day after, 1 September 1977, the band performed at Winter Gardens in Penzance as "A Mystery Band Of International Repute". No one knew about it outside Penzance. The rest of 1977 was spent hoping for and awaiting another appearance from the band somewhere near our way. It never happened. To add to the irritation, a friend back home in Norway wrote me to tell that Sex Pistols were on a Scandinavian tour the summer of 1977, playing a gig at The Pingvin Club in my native home town of Oslo. Mind you, being only 16 at the time, I probably wouldn't have had any chance to attend the gig anyway, which had a strict 20 years old plus entrance criteria. I did go to see The Clash and Richard Hell & the Voidoids play in Plymouth the autumn of 77. They had with them Glen Matlock as a guest musician on some songs. It sounded very good. I also saw the Rich Kids play Pretty Vacant in Plymouth the spring of 1978. "Play God Save the Queen", someone in the audience shouted. "No way, that's Pistols shit", Matlock replied.

Some years later, in 1986, I was working for a Norwegian music paper when Public Image Ltd. visited Oslo. The editor sent me to interview Lydon and the others. What I foresaw as an interesting conversation with John fell into a shambles when he thought I was "a spy from the British music press" and therefore wanted Virgin records to throw me out from the press-conference. They assured him I was no such thing as a reporter from English tabloids, and John reluctantly did a halfhearted interview. No talk about the Pistols, apart from the fact that hated the movie "Sid & Nancy."

In 1996 came my first ever, and so far, only chance to see the Sex Pistols live, now reformed with Glen Matlock on bass. They played at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. Me and a friend bought a ticket to the festival, and then set out on a 450 mile long trip from Norway to Denmark. When the Pistols entered the main stage, the PA didn't kick in until the band were half way through their first song, Bodies. But they sounded really good. The music still had attitude and energy enough to convince me that they still were a brilliant band. During their second song, someone in the audience threw a bottle on-stage. Lydon remarked that he didn't take to kindly to this and asked them to stop. By the third song, more bottles were hurled on stage, just missing Lydon's head.

"Fucking stop throwing bottles", Lydon remarked - more angry this time. He also threatened to leave the stage if the security in front of the stage didn't stop the mischiefs. Then came another shower of bottles. "Fuck this. I warned you. That's it," announced Lydon as he walked off the stage with the rest of the band. Their performance was over, after only four songs. Although very disappointed, I could understand the bands point of view. Security in front of the stage was appalling.

Later that day, we met a couple of Norwegians who claimed they were responsible for throwing the bottles. I asked them why they had done this. "The Pistols are a punk rock band, right? They should be able to handle a few bottles on stage," said one of the guys.

I told him how pathetic they both were and something about the danger of flying bottles, especially if they actually were to hit the performers on stage. My friend, aware of the fact that I'd waited a long time to see the Sex Pistols play, told me that we really should punish these guys in some way. We therefore decided to befriend them and then strike when they least expected it. The Norwegians we're already quite drunk when we offered them to smoke some very potent black hashish my friend had picked up in Copenhagen. Unknowing to them, we made a killer mix of four grams, filled a big pipe and served them. They eagerly smoked, unaware of its effects. After a short while they started mumbling incoherently to each other, and became very disorientated. One off them fell backwards on his tent and hit his head on a beer crate and immediately passed out. His friend was crawling around on all fours, not knowing who or where he was, making strange sounds - until he also passed out. A Dane came up to us and asked what we'd given them and laughed out loud when he heard exactly what we'd served them. He also thanked us for silencing them, because these two guys had been, since their arrival at the festival, a loudmouthed and annoying pain in the arse to all the other campers around them.

When the duo woke up about four hours later, the one who fell on the beer crate checked his head, only to find a deep cut and coagulated blood from where the beer-crate had impacted. He needed medical attention and some stitches for that. The other one glanced pretty blurred our way. Their tent was in a shambles and somebody had stolen their beer and CD-player when they had passed out. They also missed some bands that they wanted to see play at the festival.

"That's for screwing up the Pistols concert," we shouted from where we were sitting. No reply came, and the duo remained very silent for the rest of the festival.

Pictures above: Sex Pistols in action at the Roskilde Festival

Review added March 2006

©Phil Singleton / 2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2017
All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission.

God Save the Sex Pistols


God Save The Sex Pistols ©Phil Singleton /