REVIEWS BOOKS (updated July 2011)
Young Flesh Required – Growing Up With The Sex Pistols NEW
Alan G Parker with Mick O’Shea
Is there room for another Sex Pistols book? Haven’t we heard the story many times before? Aren’t the only tales worth hearing those from insiders, who were actually there? Clearly many of the inner circle are not going to put pen to paper themselves, and what’s more, do they all have enough interesting material to fill a book themselves?
What the authors have done in Young Flesh Required is gathered from various participants some of these tales – both credited and uncredited - and woven them within the story of the band, covering events right up to 2011.
Admittedly, the book gets off to a shaky start with an introduction bordering on self worship! I understand the need for a little name dropping, but name dropping yourself? Please, no! Modesty is eminently more attractive. Once past this dubious hic-up, things quickly take a turn for the better.
Proceedings begin in earnest with a solid account of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s childhoods and influences, set against the historical upheaval they went through along with the rest of post-war UK. Tellingly, the emphasis gradually switches from their own influences to the influence they themselves began to have on others via 430 King’s Road. The first 40 pages are centred on the pair which shows the importance the authors have placed on Malcolm and Vivienne in the Sex Pistols story.
From the start, the book sets out to challenge perceived views by throwing the spotlight on other protagonists who have previously been largely overlooked; American Bradley Mendelson anyone? What was his role in Malcolm’s rise?
The unsung star treatment is applied to Warwick ‘Wally’ Nightingale, without whom “there wouldn’t have been a band which Malcolm could mould into the Sex Pistols.” You may disagree, but it’s a point well made in the book.
It’s not just individuals who get a revisionary makeover, but events as well. The bare facts are left as just that, the facts, but are presented from an unfamiliar angle – another technique put to use throughout. For the most part it works, with input from the likes of Steve ‘Roadent’ Connolly, an insider who tells it as it was. To aid the emotional punch, the book draws on various texts published over the years to liven up the proceedings, referencing memories from all sides; record company executives, musicians, fans, roadies and the like. Young Flesh Required is deliberately anecdotal.
The result is the Sex Pistols story that for once doesn’t read like a rehash of tired old prose. The subtitle Growing Up With The Sex Pistols betrays the attitude on display – the authors are not claiming they grew up with the Sex Pistols, but that the Pistols were a part of their growing up, hence the passion and forthright opinions only a fan can possess.
There will be viewpoints – and assumptions - that you don’t agree with. In places, these seem a touch personal which makes for uneasy reading. For instance, I couldn’t help but wonder why the authors are so critical of the reunions of the last decade. They give their reasons, but in my opinion, these reasons don’t stack up. I personally thought the reunions were magnificent! Sorry guys, but you got this one wrong. Again, it’s a matter of opinion - which in essence - is what Young Flesh Required is about.
Where the book differs from say, England’s Dreaming, is that it does not pause to intellectualise but tears through the story at a rapid pace, while remaining in-depth throughout its 300 pages. The account of the 100 Club Festival is particularly laudable, marrying the back story of the festival with the history of the various groups that performed, while reflecting on the myth of the glass throwing incident.
The conversational style makes the book accessible across the fan spectrum. For a first time reader of the Pistols story, it is a commendable point of entry. For a long time fan, it throws up new anecdotes, theories, and opinions. You’ll give parts of the book a knowing nod, at other times your blood will boil! There’s nothing wrong with that.
Fast moving, insightful, opinionated and controversial. Just like a Sex Pistols book should be. With one proviso - in the words of John Lydon: “Two sides to every story...”
Review by Phil Singleton (July 2011)
Friday On My Mind Part 2: Pushin' & Shovin' NEW
I had never heard of the first volume of Friday On My Mind, Don Hughes’ account of his Hounslow Mod and Scooter days of the 1960s, but when asked if I’d be interested in volume 2 which included Don’s own colour photographs of the Sex Pistols at the Nashville Rooms, I was intrigued enough to get acquainted with the character and his exploits.
Don loves his music, more than anything else (pity his family) – it’s what drives him. The book follows his own personal journey as he searched desperately for a music that could recapture the thrill of his beloved Mod, whose demise he will forever lament.
He explored every new style, trend and group from 1967 onwards in this quest and consequently gives us a musical – and political - history tour, as his hopes are repeatedly raised and then dashed.
Throwing in plenty of background facts and opinions along the way, Pushin’ & Shovin’ proves far more informative than expected – I learnt lots about bands, record companies, and the numerous youth cults of the period. This diverse spectrum of knowledge stems in part from his desire to make his living in some way connected to his passion. This he did selling vinyl, building up a network of like-minded contacts and friends both here and in the US. A flirtation with journalism widened his network.
One evening in April 1976, he attended a 101ers show at the Nashville Rooms with an American friend. His friend took along a tape recorder and Don “in response” took his camera. Neither had even heard of the support band, the Sex Pistols. The impression they left was profound: “Rock’s Second Coming had truly arrived.” The following night he went to see the band at the El Paradise Strip Club and kicked into motion a devotion to following the band through their rise and subsequent unravelling. Absorbing the scene and all it entailed, Don recalls his personal encounters with Glen Matlock, Sid Vicious, Malcolm McLaren (who he had been unimpressed by a few years before in Let It Rock), and monumental moments such as McLaren playing a God Save The Queen A&M acetate before the Screen on the Green April 1977 show: “That song put the Sex Pistols into a whole different league.” He saw the Pistols for the last time at the Uxbridge show in December 1977. Don’s photos from both his first and last Pistols shows appear in the book.
Perhaps the biggest event that occurred during this period was a personal one, the collapse of his first marriage. It’s not too surprising; his devotion to music came above everything else.
The story continues through the tail end of punk and accelerates through the 80s, 90s and up to the present day. Don’s struggle with booze took a hold and his personal problems worsened over the decades. He still immersed himself in music and the latest fads, but I get the feeling it became more out of not knowing what else to do, than out of self-gratification. His life became devoid of any stability – the result was another failed marriage.
Now approaching 60 years of age, the author is clean and sober. After reading the book you’ll hope he remains that way. It’s a cautionary tale which can be applied to any one of us with an obsession; you can love your hobby too much. Be warned!
Pushin’ & Shovin’ is a fast paced story told in an easy going conversational style. Packed full of priceless anecdotes, observations and nuggets of information, it’s a gripping read for anyone with an interest in the development of rock music, particularly during the 1970s. If you’re a Pistols fan, relive their impact through the eyes of a music fan who was searching for the next big thing, and stumbled across it by accident.
A tale well worth telling, and well worth reading.
Review by Phil Singleton (June 2011)
Sid's Norwegian Romance. Sex Pistols: Exiled To Trondheim NEW
Trygve Mathiesen. Co-research Harry Nordskog
Another book from Trygve Mathiesen with Harry Nordskog, and like their previous Exiled To Oslo, it’s another triumph. Focusing on an individual show and its impact has paid dividends once more thanks to the painstaking research undertaken.
Not all gigs are iconic or life changing to those who attended, and for many gigs there is little or no evidence that anything took place, perhaps just a listing in a newspaper. Concentrating on one particular show is just as likely to unearth little of interest.
Trondheim, 21st July 1977 is thankfully, different.
The inclusion of a recording of the show in the Kiss This box set has already made it familiar to many people, it was just a case of finding a little bit more. This time the authors were fortunate to stumble across a human interest story; the memories of Teddie, a 16 year old hired by the promoters to act as a host to the Sex Pistols and who is the subject of “Sid’s Norwegian Romance.” Her recollection of her time spent in the company of the Sex Pistols, and specifically Sid, during the group's two day stay provide a window into the day-to-day world of the band on the road, from the mundane shopping for trousers and eating ice cream, to the uneasy behind closed doors activities.
It’s an account well worthy of attention – the feelings experienced by a teenager falling for a rock star can be intense at the best of times, but for it to actually happen has left a crystal clear set of memories etched into Teddie’s memory.
Aside from the narrative, the pictorial content is incredible. Venues on the continent were far more relaxed about allowing cameras than they were in the UK. The result? We are blessed with a wealth of fabulous photographs taken of the band both in action and informally. The show was summed up by one punter: “The gig was a euphoric, ecstatic experience.”
The gig itself isn’t the end of the affair, the fun continues at the after-party at the Hawk Club which ends in mayhem. “There was a silly guy that mooned us whilst we sat at the table with our beers. I felt Sid tense up beside me.... he (Sid) followed
him into the loo... I didn’t really see what was happening until John got up quickly from the table and I saw Sid covered in blood.” Then it was onto the after-after party at Hotel Phoenix where the band were staying.
What follows is the growing attachment between Sid and Teddie.
I wasn't sure if Sid's Norwegian Romance would be a pale shadow of Exiled To Oslo, a mere cash-in on the previous book's success. I am delighted to report that it's a superb book in its own right. A treasure trove of photographs and memories. Another must have.
Oh, and like Exiled To Oslo, the book is in English.
Review by Phil Singleton (March 2011)
This Is Our Generation Calling
Days Like Tomorrow Books
The third and final chapter in Tony Beesley’s in-depth look back at Sheffield’s golden era of youth culture and gig going; the late 70s and early 80s. Tony’s first book, Our Generation, was such a success it resulted in many more people coming forward to offer their own memories and perspectives on the period. It seemed inevitable that a further book would follow. Incidentally, the cover is reminiscent of the classic 20 Of Another Kind punk compilation. If this is deliberate, it's a nice touch.
It’s incredible how the punk period left such an indelible mark on those who took part, that even in middle-age, those same people are keen to recall how the music and life-style affected them at the time and shaped them for the future. I myself have contributed two stories and a couple of pictures from my own four years spent in the city.
Also fascinating is how the various people carried on with their lives once the era was over, many forgetting about music altogether, others moving into other scenes, embracing Acid House, Soul, Britpop and the like. The common theme that emerges is that nothing replaced the feeling they got from the excitement of punk (and in some cases the '79 Mod Revival), and nearly all have returned to it, either to listen again to their old records, reform bands, or to attend punk shows. Quite a portion of the book is devoted to the aftermath and it'll please many readers to discover how familiar the stories feel. The middle-age urge to re-acquaint oneself with the thrill of youth shines through - and it's no bad thing; it is both real and honest. Mandy Taylor tells her story of being a punk mum and her love of the Rebellion Festivals, her enthusiasm is infectious and taps into the flame that still burns inside many an aging punk rocker.
At a whopping 400+ pages every conceivable angle is covered. There are countless gigs remembered, personal encounters with the groups, venues, violence, friendships; all aspects of youth culture is here. Sheffield punk Murray Fenton recalls the day he auditioned to replace Mick Jones in The Clash, while at the other end of the spectrum we read of people selling their prized records - a very common practice - believing they had grown out of punk. I had mates who did this, only to regret it many years later. Like I said, This Is Our Generation Calling, comes at the era from all directions. I even found myself getting annoyed reading about ex-punks getting into The Smiths, Goth, and New Romantic bands! Why get annoyed? It's the passion of the subject which is brought to life by the different stories contained in this book.
Putting aside all the press hyperbole about the period and all the bragging about gigs people went to and the records that they bought, what matters the most is the human story. Ordinary kids with ordinary lives trying to do something to brighten up their existence. By searching for a little fun and excitement, the youth of Sheffield who chose to ignore the mainstream in the late 70s and early 80s are left with the kind of memories that many future generations will struggle to match. After all, this is our generation calling and Tony Beesley has given us the outlet for our calling to be heard.
One contributor sums it up perfectly; "I don't feel I could have been born at a better time."
Review by Phil Singleton (October 2010)
Banned In The UK: Sex Pistols Exiled To Oslo 1977
Trygve Mathiesen. Co-research Harry Nordskog
You may be asking, who needs more Sex Pistols books? Surely, there is very little new left to say? Thankfully, a handful of recent books have come at their subjects from inventive angles. The recent research into the different aspects of the Sheffield punk scene is a case in point. Then there was I Swear I Was There, which focused on one particular gig. It’s fitting, therefore, that in the introduction to Exiled to Oslo, Trygve Mathiesen cites David Nolan’s book as the inspiration for this very book. This time the action takes place in Oslo, at the Pingvin Club on 20th July, during the height of the band’s notoriety.
The photographic content is sensational – the book is worth buying for this alone. The wealth of previously unpublished pictures is breathtaking.
In common with I Swear I Was There, Exiled To Oslo tracks down many of those present at the gig and valiantly lists everyone known to have attended. No mean feat.
The book starts well with the background to the show, placing it in the context of the Pistols history, and moves up a gear with John and Sid’s press conference at the Ambassador Hotel prior to the gig. The conference is often hilarious, unintentionally at times; it’s good to witness the band sparring with a press pack who are finding it hard to grasp what the Sex Pistols are all about. The meeting was reported in the Scandinavian press and cuttings are reproduced here. Interestingly, in addition are the shorthand notes of a journalist which give perhaps the most honest account of the occasion. In keeping with the rest of the book, there are some great pictures.
The only weak part of the book is Hard Talk, with falls into the trap of over thinking punk, Jon Savage style. Plus, we’ve heard it all many times before, I’m afraid. I personally could have happily done without this. Nevertheless, the photos in this section save it.
Exiled To Oslo comes into its own when we get onto the show itself. A wide variety of memories - including from those who couldn’t get in due to age – bring the evening to life. Again, the photographs, along with the memorabilia (tickets, autographs), make it a visual feast. John in his Destroy muslin, Steve in orange boiler suite, Paul in Tits T-shirt, and Sid with and without his leather jacket , all make for some classic rock ‘n’ roll images. I mustn’t forget the ash tray incident either or the after show party at Club 7 which also go under the microscope. One fan recalls his fight with Sid at the party which left him with a permanent scar. There’s also the after, after show party...
Trygve Mathiesen concludes the book with a Malcolm McLaren obituary based on his own meetings with the man himself.
This is a first class publication. The enthusiasm of the author is evident throughout as he turns one gig into an historic event. For the people present it was such an event. I’m glad they’ve shared both their memories and photographs with the rest of us. What was a special night for them has, 33 years later, provided a treat for the rest of us. A wonderful addition to the Pistols library.
Oh, and the book is in English.
Review by Phil Singleton (August 2010)
Out of Control: Punk Rock at the Doncaster Outlook and Rotherham Windmill 1976-1978
Days Like Tomorrow Books
Following on from Tony’s excellent book Our Generation. The Punk And Mod Children of Sheffield, Rotherham, and Doncaster, this time he has focused in detail on Doncaster’s Outlook Club and Rotherham’s Windmill. The book is similar in feel to Take It To The Limit, Neil Anderson’s look at Sheffield’s Limit Club, which was published last year.
The Yorkshire boys have led the way in recalling how punk rock affected UK kids away from the glitz and glamour of London. Out in the provinces, punk was far more than a passing fad and the recollections of both these venues bring the era back to life; like opening a time capsule, the emotions and feelings of a long-lost past pour out and serve as a reminder of a very special time, the like of which will never be repeated.
The Pistols also have a part to play; an unpublished picture of the band at Radio Hallam July 1976 has been unearthed along with a signed contract for their first appearance at the Outlook on September 27th 1976 in front of about 40 people. The account of this show; “We were totally blown away by them” contrasts greatly with that of the following August when they appeared as the Tax Exiles during the SPOTS tour. According to one fan “Sid Vicious was in a right state that night. Musically it wasn’t a patch on the first gig.” However, promoter Bob Roberts has a more light hearted nugget; “The Pistols were rehearsing and hanging around when Sid started swearing, I can clearly recall Johnny Rotten bollocking him for swearing in front of my child.” The band got paid £150 for the show. Meanwhile, Glen Matlock returned to the Outlook twice with the Rich Kids who also played one of the last punk shows at the Windmill.
The book recalls the visit of Steve Jones and Paul Cook to Virgin Records in Sheffield to promote Never Mind The Bollocks, with some fans then making their way back to Rotherham after the signing just in time to watch The Lurkers at the Windmill.
The Pistols form just a small part of the punk landscape for the regulars at these two clubs. The bands that appeared provide a mouth watering run through the punk and new wave greats: Generation X, Adverts, Ramones, Electric Chairs, Buzzcocks, The Boys, Saints, XTC, Motors, Talking Heads, Damned, X-Ray Spex, Rezillos, Adam and the Ants, The Jam, Wire, Penetration, 999, Sham 69, the list goes on. Pretty much all the major bands appeared at one or other (or both) clubs, the only notable absentees were The Clash.
Siouxsie and the Banshees also played at the Outlook. Bob Roberts remembers; “I couldn’t believe how bad they were and I only took them on a second time to simply find out if they really were that bad.”
The beauty of the book is the honestly which reflects the innocence of the times. From the era when all you had was your local scene. You had to make it happen yourself, or you simply got nothing. The Outlook and Windmill stand out as monuments to this by-gone era. Are we any better off now in a more connected world? Just listen to the personal stories of those that matter, the fans themselves. Like me, they wouldn’t swap those times for the world.
Review by Phil Singleton (July 2010)
Apathy for the Devil
Publisher: Faber and Faber £12.99
Nick Kent’s ‘Apathy for the Devil’ is a MUST read for any Sex Pistols’ fan. The band and McLaren are a major part of the book … and Mr. Kent is none too respectful with his memories.
Kent’s credibility to discuss the Pistols goes way back to 1974, when he first encountered Malcolm enthralled by the visiting New York Dolls. Later chats with Sex’s budding provocateurs occur when the writer starts scoring at ‘Granny Takes a Trip’ - a Kings Road clothing establishment in close proximity. After the Doll’s demise McLaren condones Steve and Paul’s Swankers’ emergence: Kent later plays guitar with this pre-Pistols line up for two months during the summer of ’75, and takes credit for introducing Roadrunner and No Fun into the band’s repertoire.
Lydon’s introduction to the Pistol’s entourage reveals an initially shy youth quickly gaining confidence after journalistic exposure: but in Kent’s diatribes, the young Lydon is maliciously described as a former acid head peddling illegal substances at Hawkwind events. Sid comes across as a gullible teen too easily manipulated by Malcolm - and later a tragic junkie "only 20 years old and already the smell of death". Mr. McLaren also gets some none too pleasant abuse, being disrespectfully described as "a control seeking snake" and "red haired prick": although Nick might be forgiven his opinions after McLaren apparently instigated Sid’s bike chain assault on his person at the 100 Club.
It would be a mistake for Pistol fans to ignore the book’s early chapters as they build an impressive picture of the UK/US Rock scene of the time - and the success of this narrative is to firmly place the Sex Pistols and punk in the context of that decade. Nick Kent was one of NME’s pre-eminent journalists during this period and hung out with anyone that mattered - although he never gives the impression of blagging. Zeppelin, Stones and Bowie stride the seventies like gods, and their excess and attempts to insulate themselves from the clamoring masses created the conditions for punk’s boasted fan accessibility.
Drug and excessive alcohol use saturate the narrative - with notable casualties and few survivors. One of Kent’s most touching Sid stories finds the bassist comatose in the gutter outside a seedy North London drug squat, the writer scores for him - as he concludes, he’s simply a brother addict in need of a fix. In fact if you are to believe Nick, Sid appears to be on heroin through most of his Pistol’s career. Images of Sid and Nancy lugging their lives’ possessions in three or four plastic bags between hippie drug squats is simply recorded as the sordid misery it was, but impressively Nick Kent doesn't moralise about this ... he acknowledges his own personal weaknesses and struggle with heroin.
In conclusion, my favorite anecdote concerns Sweet’s lead singer mistaking Count Basie for a Hotel bell hop, and the person to come out best is Iggy. Highly recommended - buy and read now, if you want to know what the 70s were really like.
Reviewed for God Save The Sex Pistols by Dave Smitham (April 2010)
The England's Dreaming Tapes
Publisher: Faber and Faber
£20. 752 pages
Is it really almost twenty years ago that the genre defining England’s Dreaming – the Sex Pistols and Punk Rock, was published?
Jon Savage’s epic tale proved to be the definitive work on punk rock, and was important in so many ways. It was the first mainstream book to take punk seriously, the first to weave together its many strands, from the early influences - both music and cultural on both sides of the Atlantic – through to the explosion and subsequent fall out, and the first to theorize the phenomenon. As a piece of work it will never be bettered.
That’s not to say it is without fault. The tendency to over analyze occurrences and even the records themselves, did detract from some of the spontaneity of punk – sometimes things just happen, records were produced a certain way because, well, they just were.
Nevertheless, England’s’ Dreaming made you think about punk in ways hitherto unexplored. It also presented differing viewpoints of the same events and for the first time provided a balanced account free of the journalistic curse of personal agenda.
At its heart was the vast number of interviews with an impressive array of key personalities. It’s important to remember the interviews were conducted only ten years after the punk heyday, which at the time felt like an age ago.
Ten years seems in retrospect an ideal period after which to reflect. Memories remain relatively sharp, the time allows for a more balanced perspective, yet feelings of bitterness are still clearly in evidence, which makes for a more honest account. You know full well, if most of the personalities in the book were interviewed now, they would be far nicer about one another - it comes with age. For a book about punk to succeed, the anger has to be present, and the wounds open.
And so, here we are in 2009 with The England’s Dreaming Tapes. I feared this may be a re-hash, but need not have had any such concerns. It’s simply a stunning book. Whereas England’s Dreaming told the story of punk rock, The England’s Dreaming Tapes allows us to get inside the minds of the personalities. As Jon explains in his introduction, only about ten per cent of his interviews were used in England’s Dreaming, and the The England’s Dreaming Tapes itself squeezes in only sixty per cent of the material. What you’ve got here is 750 pages of largely unpublished accounts. Jon also gives an indication of the state of mind of the interviewees when he met with them, which can have a bearing on the responses he received. He also asks the important questions.
Crucially, each interviewee appears just once, their account complete apart from edits made for reasons of sense and libel.
The book has been arranged into themed sections, so you can dip right into your areas of interest. Sections directly related to the Pistols are The Shop: 430 Kings Road, Sex Pistols, The Team: Glitterbest, The Suburbs, and Sid Vicious. However, I suspect you’ll want to digest everything on offer.
The Propagandists, which features interviews with Neil Spencer, Caroline Coon, Jonh Ingham and Mark Perry, is particularly enlightening as the importance they had in galvanizing the scene cannot be understated. It’s interesting to hear how they were drawn into the Pistols circle and also how they left it; Jonh Ingham’s love affair with punk came to an abrupt end after having his house trashed throwing a party at the end of the Anarchy Tour.
As well as the four surviving Sex Pistols, Jon Savage pinned down the elusive, and now deceased, Wally Nightingale to reveal his take on the proceedings. This much maligned individual is described by the author as “withdrawn, angry, troubled.” It’s a key piece of information because his words come across largely as resigned and accepting of his fate, almost as though he could dismiss his exit from the band with a shrug of his shoulders. Clearly this was not the vibe he gave off while speaking these words.
I’ve only begun to scratch the surface here. Just look at the names on offer. From the Pistols / 430 Kings Road inner circle: Malcolm McLaren, Helen Wallington-Lloyd, Robin Scott, Jordan, Alan Jones, Nils and Ray Stevenson, Dave Goodman, Sophie Richmond, Jamie Reid, and John Tiberi (who I learnt in The England’s Dreaming Tapes was christened "Boogie" after John Lennon’s Dr. Winston O' Boogie persona). Plus scores of others: Joe Strummer, Chrissie Hynde, Tony James, Siouxsie Sioux, Viv Albertine, Debbi Wilson, Marco Pirroni, Adam Ant, Jah Wobble; from New York: Sylvain Sylvain, Lee Black Childers, and Roberta Bayley; and via a detour to take in the Manchester scene, Howard Devoto, Pete Shelley, and Tony Wilson. The list goes on.
The England’s Dreaming Tapes is more than an alternative to its illustrious predecessor. Whereas England’s Dreaming was ground breaking in its pursuit of the facts and details behind the myth, The England’s Dreaming Tapes is remarkable in its own right. Through the unedited transcripts, now we get to know the individuals involved in shaping that story.
It allows access to the greatest collection of interviews ever gathered by one author on the subject. In this respect no other book can hope to touch it.
The England’s Dreaming Tapes is destined to be regarded as the definitive oral history of the Sex Pistols and Punk Rock. Essential.
Review by Phil Singleton (June 2009)
Our Generation. The Punk And Mod Children of Sheffield, Rotherham, and Doncaster. 1976 – 1985.
Days Like Tomorrow Books. 444 pages
Featuring over 150 contributions from people who lived and grew up in South Yorkshire during the punk revolution, Our Generation recalls the impact punk made as it found its way up the M1 and into the lives of the bored teenagers of Sheffield, Rotherham, and Doncaster.
It’s a gripping piece of research. Most accounts of the UK punk explosion are London-centric for obvious reasons, but the importance and impact of punk elsewhere in the country cannot be understated. In many respects punk meant more to those outside the capital, in the towns and villages where the youth really did have nothing to do.
Our Generation includes recollections of the Sex Pistols at the Black Swan, Sheffield in July '76, the Outlook, Doncaster in September '76 and August '77, and Huddersfield on Christmas Day ‘77. As with most ‘76 Pistols gigs, the early shows were sparsely attended unlike the August ‘77 Outlook show, which was part of the famous SPOTS tour and played under the pseudonym The Tax Exiles.
The recollections in the book are honest, which is a breath of fresh air – no one’s trying to rewrite history with the benefit of hindsight. This is evident with the mixed response to the Sex Pistols shows; somewhat surprisingly not everyone who attended rated them highly. The August ‘77 show hints at the tension now surrounding the band: “the atmosphere was quite heavy,” “.. roadie 'Roadent' was throwing and smashing bottles about. I think he was aiming for Nancy.,” “The Sex Pistols were awkward that night, and Sid Vicious was a completely nasty piece of work.” Contrast this to the Black Swan in July ‘76 with Rotten clearly on form; “Put your hands up if you bought Patti Smith’s Horses album.” (pause while people put their hands up) ” You’ve been cheated!” The audience clearly did not know what to make of it and by the end of the show there was about 10 people left.
However, over the next 18 months people did start to grasp what it was all about. The venues themselves were to prove so pivotal to the local punk scene. The previously mentioned Outlook Club in Doncaster, The Windmill in Rotherham, The Limit Club, Top Rank, and later Marples and The Leadmill in Sheffield, all put on shows that changed the lives of many local teenagers.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the book is that it acts as a mirror of the punk years that were being played out, not just in South Yorkshire, but throughout the provincial towns. Punk took a while longer to take off outside London, but the way in which it seeped into the collective consciousness of the UK’s youth will seem familiar to many. One contributor believes that 1979 was the year punk really hit its stride, citing all the incredible singles released that year. The Skids’ Into The Valley is recalled as one such galvanising record. The Mod revival and emergence of 2-Tone during the same year is also recalled; many punk rockers were die hard Jam fans themselves and had no real differences with the Mod crowd.
Also fascinating are the many stories of fans meeting the bands themselves, and proving the old punk adage that punk broke down the barriers between bands and their fans. Tales of helping 999 set up equipment, the Buzzcocks getting an underage kid into a show, and touring with Sham 69 are retold alongside many bar side encounters with, amongst others, Paul Weller, Sid Vicious, and Gaye Advert. Gaye, Debbie Harry and Pauline Murray are also remembered fondly by the punk boys for obvious reasons.
The book takes the story right through to 1985. I lived the best part of four years in Sheffield from ’82 – ’86 and particularly enjoyed reliving this period - some of the gigs I attended are remembered, including one of the all time legendary shows, the Dead Kennedys in November ‘82 at the Leadmill.
Punk was much more than just the music; it was a way of life, a statement. Perhaps that’s the strength of Our Generation. The excitement, the violence (against the punks rather than by the punks), the sheer thrill of belonging to such a breathtaking cause, are brought vividly back to life by those who were affected the most, the kids themselves. It’s their story, it was my story, and it may be yours. It’s a tremendous book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. A true punk rock book: honest, vibrant and passionate. I’ve not enjoyed a music book as much since Sulphate Strip. Highly recommended.
Available direct from the author. Contact: Beesleytony4@aol.com for further details.
Review by Phil Singleton (May 2009)
Sex Pistols Reader
Compiled and Edited by John D. Luerssen
Rock Reader Books. 168 pages
Download £4.03 Paperback book £9.83
Published: February 2009
This is a brand new on-line publication which can be purchased as a download or as a bound paperback book.
Basically, as the title "Reader" suggests, it is a compilation of articles which have previously appeared in the press, presented in chronological order from April 1976 through to February 1978.
I wasn't sure what to make of this at first, as it is hardly a book in the traditional sense, but merely a collection of other people's work. In its favour, it doesn't claim to be anything other than this. It's designed to be an historical reference work, and as such it works perfectly, drawing from music weeklies, monthlies, and broadsheets. The articles are presented as transcriptions of the original text rather than photocopies of yellowing newsprint. The book is light on photographs, and what few there are can be easily found on the internet.
A contents page listing the articles would have been useful. As there isn't one, I've gone through the book and provide one for you here:
The Sex Pistols are four months old... Jonh Ingham, Sounds, April 24, 1976
The Sex Pistols: 100 Club, London Greg Shaw, Phonograph Record, June 1976
Punk Rock: Rebels Against the System Caroline Coon, Melody Maker, August 7, 1976
Sex Pistols: Rotten To The Core Caroline Coon, Melody Maker, November 27, 1976
The Bill Grundy Interview Today, Thames Television, December 1, 1976
Sex Pistols: The Anarchic Rock of the Young and Doleful Steve Turner, The Guardian, December 3,1976
What Did You Do On The Punk Tour, Daddy? Peter Silverton, Sounds, December 18, 1976
The Sex Pistols: The Screen on the Green, London Jon Savage, Sounds, April 9, 1977
Sex Pistols: Silver Jubilation Kris Needs, ZigZag, June 1977
What Did You Do On The Jubilee? Jon Savage, Sounds, June 18, 1977
Non-Interview With Malcolm McLaren Sandy Robertson, Sounds, June 18, 1977
I stole my guitar and Paul stole his drum kit... Mats Olson, Expressen, July 23, 1977
The Social Rehabilitation of the Sex Pistols Charles Shaar Murray, NME, August 6, 1977
Sex Pistols: Spunk Rock Chas de Whalley, Sounds, October 29, 1977
The Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols Kris Needs, ZigZag, November 1977
Never Mind The Sex Pistols, Here Comes The Wrath Of Sid! Nick Kent, NME, December 17, 1977
Sex Pistols in Memphis Dave Schulps, Sounds, January 7, 1978
Sex Pistols: This Could Be The Last Time Jonh Ingham, Sounds, January 28 1978
Sex Pistols: Few Waves Made During Tour Of U.S. Susan Compo, Santa Ana Register, January 1978
The Sex Pistols: Winterland, San Francisco Mark Cooper, Record Mirror, January 28, 1978
Sex Pistols: Tour Notes Howie Klein, New York Rocker, February 1978
Devoid of the benefit of hindsight and the over analysis that's built up with the passing of time, it comes as a breath of fresh air to relive the saga as it unfolded; told from differing view points and in differing and evolving situations.
Some of the content may be familiar to long time fans, but a fair chunk of it won't be. Celebrated pieces, such as Jonh Ingham's The Sex Pistols are four months old, and Kris Needs' ZigZag Silver Jubilation, rub shoulders with the less familiar Mats Olson article (translated from the Swedish paper Expressen), and an overview of the Sex Pistols impact in the US which appeared in the Santa Ana Register.
The Sex Pistols reader can be ordered for as little as £4.03 as a download, the price of a monthly music magazine. Considering there's only a couple of pages of interest in any magazine these days, why not treat yourself to 168 pages of historical insight? http://www.lulu.com/content/5686313
Review by Phil Singleton (February 2009)
Sex Pistols - The Graphic Novel
Jim McCarthy and Steve Parkhouse
Omnibus Press £12.95
Published 9th June 2008
An introduction by MOJO scribe Mark Paytress draws parallels with the anarchic format of comic books and the Pistols themselves, tracing a lineage from the Victorian era through to The Bash Street Kids, stars of The Beano. It's an interesting observation and one with some merit.
The Graphic Novel format lends itself well to the chaotic story of the band. Printed on quality, glossy paper, and in full colour, the expressive, edgy art of Steve Parkhouse carries with it the energy required to pull this project off. Graphic art is at its best when the subject matter is gritty, dark, with a splash of black humour thrown into the mix. The Pistols fit the bill. Amusing moments such as the brightly illustrated Grundy show, contrast with the dark and truly graphic interpretation of the Chelsea Hotel.
The story begins on the day of John's audition, with a full page illustration of John and his pals, all called John, strolling down the street as he makes his way to The Roebuck pub. As the tale develops, the narrative flashes back to earlier events, filling in back story such as John's Irish roots, Steve and Paul's thievery, and Malcolm McLaren's attempt to manage the New York Dolls. The story itself does not vary from established folklore and strides confidently from event to event, finishing with Sid's death (save for a neat coda featuring John Lydon "today").
The narrative delivery changes at random from the third to first person, and on occasion to a character talking "on camera" to the reader. This non-formulaic approach is an unexpected welcome twist, well suited to pulling together the strands of the story.
It's also fun seeing Steve Parkhouse's interpretation of the peripheral characters such as Bernie Rhodes, Wally Nightingale and Jah Wobble. Familiar pictorial source material rubs shoulders with the artist's own interpretation of events, striking a good balance; avoiding criticisms of "it never looked like that" while bringing to life unrecorded moments such as the St Martin's debut gig.
The Graphic Novel is an excellent piece of work and a first class book in its own right, embellished with an anarchic spirit, both in the style of the illustrations and the narrative. It delivers an entertaining crash course though the Sex Pistols history, appealing both to those who may not relish wading through England's Dreaming, and to those who want to enjoy the Sex Pistols saga in the surreal world of the comic book.
Review by Phil Singleton (April 2008)
My Amazing Adventures with the Sex Pistols
Dave Goodman (foreward Malcolm McLaren)
The former Sex Pistols soundman and early producer, Dave Goodman, died in February 2005. The introduction to the book was written by Dave the previous month. What we have here is Dave's own notes written for the book he would never get to see, ably compiled by his close friend Phil Strongman.
The memories of anyone considered an insider should always make compulsory reading. As a reader you also need to be aware that the viewpoint of the author may be influenced by his own agenda and emotions. There's nothing wrong with this, it usually results in an entertaining and absorbing read. Nevertheless, with Dave Goodman, you really do need to take this fact on board.
The overwhelming impression that comes at you, almost page after page, is that Dave feels: Firstly, he was the man responsible for the Pistols sounding like they did. Secondly, he never got the credit he deserved. Thirdly, that he was ripped off (by seemingly everyone & where there is no obvious culprit "someone ran off with the royalties"). Fourthly , he was the unluckiest man alive (he claims he was creating an advanced music sequencer, but was pipped to the post by Yamaha). And finally, very little that went wrong was his fault.
The book is full of such examples. Two of his biggest bug-bears concern the Anarchy single. Why was his recording deemed not good enough to release? "As far as the single was concerned ... the band were playing all their other songs magnificently, but when it came to Anarchy they seemed to become too self-conscious."
He adds that Mike Thorne (Pistols' A&R at EMI) secretly went into the studio to do his own mix of Dave's own production behind his back, and it was this version that "was probably ... spun around the EMI offices and hence rejected by the high-ups, damaging my career in the process."
Secondly, what of the production miscredit on initial pressings of Anarchy which credited Chris Thomas with producing the B-side I Wanna Be Me (which was produced by Dave)? "When Lou Reed first heard I Wanna Be Me he apparently said I want that producer! But Chris Thomas got the job because of the bloody miscredit." Maybe, but due to the amount of hard-luck stories he tells us, you end up doubting nearly all the claims he makes.
He never got over losing out to Chris Thomas, even when talking about Never Mind The Bollocks: "They didn't really need Chris Thomas, I was the rightful producer of the band... but what the fuck did they know, they were just kids and fast becoming a bit spoilt by all the headlines."
The contributions he made to the Rock 'N' Roll Swindle Soundtrack gave Dave a second shot at staking a claim of how good he was, even to the point of reminding Steve & Paul how they created their own sound; "I reminded them of my old 'close mic on the amp and mic facing the flight case' trick that we'd used when I recorded them in Denmark Street...Steve & Paul sat back in amazement at the sound we got." He also alleges he was given the chance to tart up My Way. So why haven't we heard this masterpiece? "The studio wouldn't release the tape until the bill had been settled, so unfortunately the tape was delivered to Virgin too late to replace the earlier mix.... it's lost in the EMI-Virgin vaults..."
As for the tales of financial woe, I won't even go there.
Reading Dave's book it seems clear to me that his biggest downfall was an unwillingness and/or inability to get over his rejection by the Sex Pistols, coupled with his relative lack of subsequent success. Perhaps if he'd allowed himself to move on he would have enjoyed some better times, rather than blaming others for the failure of all those ground breaking ideas, inventions and schemes of his that continued to be thwarted.
These ideas became more preposterous as time passed. He still had, in his later years, ideas for using the Sex Pistols, such as playing a protest gig on an energy free stage run on solar, wind and bicycle power. Then there was his plan to record a new album with the Pistols and team them up with eco-warriors in a scheme involving the purchase of land and the building of a Sex Pistols monument for future generations to marvel at. He seemed surprised that these ideas were met with no response.
His paranoia also appeared to worsen with the passage of time. There are tales of 'phone tapping, intercepted emails, a silver Mercedes parked near his home with a "suited gent in shades leaning on it, watching me and talking into a mobile." Why? All because of a record he was thinking of releasing which he felt had the potential to bring down the UK and US governments. I kid you not. Oh, and he had hoped to get the Pistols to back him on the record. Needless to say, he abandoned his plans, and the UK and US governments no doubt breathed a huge sign of relief.
Another theme that runs throughout the book is his love of drugs, particularly his favourite Thai-grass. You can't help but think this affected his judgement and contributed to his misfortune.
That's not to say the book is not worth reading, far from it; it should be read by all fans of the band. It's full of insight and priceless recollections of the early days, taking in many iconic moments starting with his first encounter with the band at the Nashville Rooms through such events as the Chelmsford prison gig, recording sessions, Notre Dame Hall gig filmed by LWT, the Pistols meeting Queen (the group), the Anarchy Tour (including swimming pool shenanigans), the Jubilee Boat Trip, the Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle soundtrack sessions, and more. The recollections are retold with an energy which, I feel, is ironically a by-product of his bitterness and obsession.
Dave did have a very important part to play in the early days, and his contribution should not be overlooked. If only he could have accepted this for what it was, perhaps he could have avoided a lifetime of torment. An enthralling book, written by a tortured soul.
Review by Phil Singleton (December 2007)
Metal Box: Stories from John Lydon's Public Image
Helter Skelter Publishing
It's been a long time in coming, so has it been worth it? On balance it has, but it's by no means flawless. First off, the audience for this book will be buying it for new information about Public Image Limited and will already have the story of the Sex Pistols to hand. So why devote almost forty pages to the Pistols? There are some interesting tales of the post-Pistols split in here, but that is where this book should have begun. Also, the discography is similarly almost 40 pages long! You won't have to look far to find that on the internet either. In other words, 80 pages are unnecessary. Perhaps a revised cheap paperback running to 150 pages would better serve the book's aims.
Those remaining 150 pages are worthy of your attention, so putting the above faults to one side, if you like PiL, there is much to recommend this. There is also a nice collection of Dennis Morris photographs in the book, most of which were unfamiliar to myself.
Like all books, those participants in the saga who talked to the author tend to push the narrative in a particular direction, as personal scores are settled. Jah Wobble, Keith Levene, Jim Walker and Martin Atkins all give their perspectives, which are not always flattering as far as their colleagues are concerned.
Not surprisingly, the early days of the band are covered in far greater detail than the later days, and they make for interesting but not always easy reading. Grim tales from John's house at Gunter Grove, drugs, Wobble's departure, the Ritz riot, the failing relationship between John and Keith Levene, the Commercial Zone saga, are all cases in point. My old folders of PiL and Lydon press cuttings go nowhere near some of the behind-the-scenes insight that is revealed here - so full marks for that.
The story runs out of steam once it reaches the mid-80s following the magnificent Album. It's a shame: PiL were still on top form live, but some of the later tours don't get a look in. Who remembers the multi-coloured stage set that accompanied the band on their 1987 tour to promote Happy? There's no mention here. There are, however, plenty of intriguing nuggets of information which raise questions of their own. What did happen to those aborted Bill Laswell recordings from March 1988?
Of course, the biggest gap in the book is the void left by the absence of a direct contribution by John himself. The author compensates as best he can by quoting from contemporary interviews.
I feel some of the book's flaws cannot be ignored. But, and it's a big but; this book has a lot to offer the PiL fan, and I do recommend it to old fans and new converts. I learnt an awful lot, and I'm sure you will too. For that reason alone, my advice to any PiL fan is to buy this.
Review by Phil Singleton (October 2007)
77 Sulphate Strip: An Eyewitness Account of the Year That Changed Everything
Punk Rock book of the year. There you have it - I thought I'd start with my conclusion.
The first thing I knew about 77 Sulphate Strip was an email from a friend recommending it. It didn't take long to work out why. Author Barry Cain was a journalist for the Record Mirror back in the day. Now older and battle scarred by life, he sets out to re-discover the greatest year of his life, 1977. He briefly tells us why 1968 was another memorable year for him, but it's 1977 that he wishes to return to. Devoid of original copies of Record Mirror, he begins his quest in the back issues branch of the British Library, and nervously reacquaints himself with his past. In the process he takes us along with him, and it's a chaotic and thrilling ride. His original interviews, gig and record reviews, are all presented as per 1977, punctuated by occasional narrative to keep the action ricocheting through the year. Record Mirror never had the kudos of the NME or Sounds, and therefore most of what's on offer has long been forgotten.
Barry had a clear love affair with sulphate, which is reflected in his jerky and paranoid approach to the scene around him. You feel as though he never knows which way to turn; there is just too much going on. This random approach has given us one of the best books ever on punk rock in 1977. The year is revisited by a man who was in the thick of the action, giving it to us as it was - no glorious hindsight - just pure 1977.
Barry is a fan of what he considers the big five; Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Jam, and The Stranglers - all of whom get repeated coverage. As do The Heartbreakers (including a trip to Scotland with an unhappy Jerry Nolan who, having left the band, is back as a hired musician). Barry joins The Damned on their first visit to the USA, The Jam in Germany, The Stranglers in Amsterdam, goes to Paris to see The Clash, and sees the Pistols in action in Atlanta and Memphis, bringing this chapter of his life to a close as '77 turns into '78.
Sex Pistols fans are well catered for. An encounter with John, Steve, and Paul in a park in the West End in June ("Get out!" screams a fat lady attendant), and a report from the secret gig in Wolverhampton during August are highlights. Let's not forget Sid's comment to Barry at Atlanta airport: "Cutting yourself is alright at the time, but the pain after is a bind." You'd think he would have thought of that.
Fast forward to January 2007 and the author attempts to track down some of the personalities 30 years later. Barry gives the impression he is an outsider, almost unwilling to accept that it was actually himself who experienced all the excitement. He gets knocked back by some of his intended interviewees such as Mick Jones and Paul Weller, and you really feel for him. Thankfully he strikes gold with John Lydon, Rat Scabies, and Hugh Cornwell.
I can't recommend 77 Sulphate Strip highly enough. Barry Cain is a man on the edge and on a mission. Mission accomplished. The Punk Rock book of the year is yours, Mr Cain, and ours to share.
Review by Phil Singleton (September 2007)
Sid Vicious: No One Is Innocent
Reviewing a book written by someone you know is not a straightforward task. Lavishing praise can be met with the response, "well, you would say that", likewise a negative review will raise eyebrows as to the motive. The conclusion at the end of the review that follows is totally impartial. In order to clear the way, it is necessary to raise a few questions that cannot be avoided. I, however, will not answer these questions; that's up to the reader.
Firstly; do we need another book on someone whose life was so short and has been covered in print many times? Secondly, this is Alan's third take on the saga - does this mean his previous accounts were lacking? Thirdly, can we be sure there won't be another book claiming to be the ultimate account?
Putting these issues to one side, I have approached No One Is Innocent in isolation, ignoring any books that have gone before, by judging it purely as an account in its own right.
At approximately 250 pages of text, this is a serious, in-depth study. Using Sid's death in February '79 as its starting point, and stating the belief that Sid did not kill Nancy, nor was his death suicide or an accident, the tale then goes back to the 1950s. Although I respect Alan's belief and think it is important to state an aim for the narrative, nothing will ever convince me of Sid's innocence, or guilt. Death entwined with such squalor makes conclusive certainty virtually impossible. However, Alan is passionate about his subject and his quest has unearthed plenty of new and intriguing information which gives readers much to assess in order to make a judgement of their own.
Sid's upbringing is dysfunctional from the beginning, in fact pre-beginning. He was born into a chaotic life with a mother, Anne Beverley, who must surely take the lion's share of the blame for what the future held in store for her son. From relocating to Ibiza, to registering as "drug dependant" in order to secure accommodation for herself, Sid stood little chance. One clear impression the book gives you is that Anne Beverley's life revolved around one thing: drugs. This comes as no surprise, however I expected her influence on Sid's adult years, and more importantly his later behaviour, to take a back seat as his other peers began to impact more on his actions. Not so, he never breaks free of her influence. There may be some who think she was "cool" or "outrageous", but having read this latest account, I have no doubt she was, as a mother, a total failure. Even worse, she seemed almost to have enjoyed the whole drama surrounding her son.
Sid's friendship with John and involvement with the developing punk scene (including the 100 Club glass throwing incident) right up to him joining the Sex Pistols, is a story told many times before, but never in so much detail, with contributions from a variety of sources and interviewees including Don Letts, Glen Matlock, and importantly, Malcolm McLaren. A hint of an anti-Lydon bias in the book surfaces at this point and reoccurs later as Alan Parker pins his colours to the McLaren mast. Perhaps McLaren agreeing to help with the book, whereas John did not, proved influential in this respect.
The book really earns its corn when we touchdown in the USA, both with the Pistols and later the same year, with Nancy. The fresh interview material with the likes of Eileen Polk, Peter Kodick, Bob Gruen, lawyer James Merberg, Steve Dior, and in particular, Malcolm McLaren, all peel away further layers of the onion uncovering new depth and intrigue surrounding the death of Nancy and the incarceration and demise of Sid.
No book of this size is error free, and a few have slipped through the net: Only Born To Lose from the Huddersfield Christmas Day show appeared on Sid Sings; Something Else was the Pistols' sixth single, not fifth; Electric Circus should read Electric Ballroom; but these are minor.
Although long time visitors to God Save The Sex Pistols may be familiar with some of the content sourced [visit the Sid section for My Way sessions, Oct 78 - Feb 79, Soho Weekly News, JR on SV - all of which appear in part in the book], I said at the start of the review I would look at No One Is Innocent in isolation, purely as a book telling the story of Sid Vicious.
My verdict: A well written, comprehensive and exhaustive piece of research into the life and death of Sid Vicious. If the subject matter fascinates you, then you should buy this book, no question.
But please ... let this be the last book telling us Sid's life story. Surely now it's time to let him rest in peace?
Review by Phil Singleton (May 2007)
90 Days At EMI
Omnibus Press/Bobcat Books £8.95
Yet again, a book appears with no fanfare, no hype, and it's a delight.
Brian Southall was the former EMI PR Executive, who was working for the company during the Sex Pistols brief stay at the label. In other words, he really was there. The book is straightforward in style, unpretentious, and makes for a quick, but enjoyable and enlightening, read. Further, the author has no agenda, nor does he try and show off or big up his own importance. No, he simply recalls the saga as it was, and fleshes out the narrative with input from others involved. Brian uses my own interview with Mike Thorne throughout the book; and how nice it was to get due credit - thanks Brian. In fact, Mike Thorne and EMI International's Graham Fletcher were the two standard bearers of punk at the label.
The book is packed full of pearls, such as the suggestion at first that the band should be placed on EMI's Harvest label, home to EMI's fringe groups. The Pistols made it clear they weren't going to be associated with "hippie shit", so that put a stop to that suggestion. The Pistols were actually regarded as a cheap signing, therefore Managing Director, Leslie Hill, wasn't even told about them initially; he was soon to find out.
What makes this book fun is discovering how EMI reacted to the situation as it unfolded. The Grundy incident affected the company in so many different ways, a mixture of embarrassment and excitement rippling up and down. Pity Graham Fletcher who gathered all the Grundy newspaper headlines together as a collage for a promotional poster and dashed down to the printers. The result? A telling off from his bosses and a load of never-to-be seen posters dumped in a skip somewhere. God Save The Queen also caused unrest at the company, once reports of this "new" song leaked back. EMI Chairman John Read, had been told they'd said "fuck the Queen" during a performance. Hill told him quickly they said "fuck Queen", their EMI label mates. Read was happier on hearing this. However, the alleged airport incident in January '77 proved the last straw for John Read. Despite Fletcher, Bob Mercer and Hill insisting the reports were false, clearly it was all becoming too much hassle for the Chairman to be having to deal with... the Pistols had to go.
I'm going to stop there, I don't want to spoil it.
There is such a wealth of new information in here, you wonder why it's taken so long for someone to tell the story from inside the EMI camp; there are even present day reflections from both Hill and Read. No, on second thoughts, I'm glad it's taken so long; I've just enjoyed a brilliant read. Something new 30 years after the event.... now that's incredible.
Review by Phil Singleton (April 2007)
Click The "Sex Pistols": 90 Days at EMI to buy from Amazon.
Lydon - Stories Of Johnny. A Compendium Of Thoughts On The Icon Of an Era
by Rob Johnston (foreward by Alan McGee)
Chrome Dreams £12.99
Is Not A Biography, to paraphrase a PiL moment. This is exactly what it says it
is: a collection of pieces written by a number of top journalists, examining various
aspects of John's career and persona, albeit in a haphazard fashion, from his
origins in the Pistols right through to the Hall Of Fame controversy and the AngloMania
event in 2006. The authors have a clear admiration and understanding of John,
so the many recollections and considerations are relayed in a positive fashion.
There is no John bashing on show here.
known musicologist and author Greil Marcus weighs in with a brand new essay tying
together more recent Lydon moments such as "the Pistols in Baghdad" and the aforementioned AngloMania held in New York. Although I've always believed
Greil's books say more about the author than his subjects, it's a fresh thought-provoking
start to the proceedings. Likewise, vocalist Barb Jungr examines John's vocal
style and delivery and what it represents. Perhaps Barb looks a little too
deeply, however, her interview with Tona De Brett more than justifies its inclusion.
up is a superb chapter based on six encounters over the years between Kris Needs
and John, from 1977 through to 2002. It acts like a 7Up review, as it skips through
time. One minute John is sitting with Keith Levene and Jeanette Lee discussing
the ground breaking Flowers Of Romance, next it's 5 years further on in time,
Levene is history and John is enthusing over World Destruction and Rise. It's
an insightful and enlightening random crash course through the evolution of John.
Highly recommended as a starting point for those wanting to get a flavour of Lydon.
Clayson's look at how the Pistols sit in amongst their rock and pop predecessors
and contemporaries is intriguing, raising a number of interesting hypotheses,
although I don't agree with all of the connections made - surely some things just
happen? Even so, it got me thinking. It is packed full of nuggets of oft overlooked
Pistols related information, and comes complete with a stark conclusion.
Nylon's piece is very much a tale of her time in and around punk and the Pistols.
It's a warm and personal view, and, as an American, she steps back and gives a
view from outside the UK. Notably, she views early PiL as John's finest hour.
famous appearance on Tommy Vance's show on Capital Radio in July 1977 follows.
In addition to a transcription of the show and a list of the songs chosen by John,
the broadcast is put in its historical context with supplementary notes explaining
why it was considered so controversial.
McNeil gives us another American perspective. As editor of New York based Punk
magazine, the magazine's 1976 interview with John gets an airing. The most compelling
part of Legs' essay is his reflection on the Pistols US tour in 1978.
Gilbert brings the proceedings right up to date. He cites Lydon's renaissance
with the UK media and public beginning with the Q Awards in 2001 and cementing
itself with I'm A Celebrity in 2004. Pat's interview with John in December
2005 is included covering all the recent bases.
is a highlight that justifies the price of the book on its own; The Wrecking
Ball written by Clinton Heylin. There was an intensity surrounding PiL that
lent an almost mythical menace to the band that no one could seemingly get a handle
on. When products like Metal Box and Flowers Of Romance emerged out of this haze,
they only reinforced this elusiveness. The Wrecking Ball covers this period, 1978
- 1983, and does so superbly. The origins of PiL are revisited using contemporary
interviews to supplement the text, followed by First Issue, Metal Box, TV appearances
(Check it Out, TOTP, The Old Grey Whistle Test), Flowers Of Romance, the Ritz
riot, right up to the split with Levene. PiL were a major force during this period,
yet bizarrely, they are now largely overlooked. This study replays the period
vividly and serves as a detailed précis of PiL at their most innovative
Williamson brings the Compendium Of Thoughts to a controversial conclusion
with a colourful piece inspired by a feature he'd written for the Guardian in
2002 titled, Face It: Punk Was Rubbish. It transpires he witnessed one
of the first Pistols gigs in December 1975. He wasn't impressed. Like the subject
matter of the book itself, he sticks to his guns.
Quotes by John Lydon is a neat way to draw the book to a close, save for the
Afterward by Rob Johnstone in which he concludes, "John Lydon is impossible
to categorise, but that seems to be the way he likes it: he's the ultimate punk
only because there's no other word fit to describe him."
of Johnny is, by its very nature, a bit hit and miss. Different essays will
appeal to different people, depending upon individual tastes and interests; a
bit like PiL. And, like PiL, there is a slew of tremendous material on offer,
no matter where your interest in John may lie. And, importantly, it will appeal
to both old aficionados and new converts. The Best Of British? A sterling effort.
by Phil Singleton (October 2006)
Was A Teenage Sex Pistol
and Hearn £12.99
are only three books that are truly essential to grasp the essence of the Sex
Pistols: John Lydon's No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs; Jon Savage's England's
Dreaming; and I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol. There are other commendable
books that add to the story both factually and pictorially, but these three are
the ones you need.
its original release in 1990, I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol gave the public a chance
to hear the story, not just from a member of the band, but also from a man who
had, up until then, been largely maligned by his former band mates and the press.
Glen had for many years had his contribution downplayed and in some cases, downright
defiled, yet despite this we all knew, deep down, that Glen was vital to the success
and cohesion of the band. Without him, there was no cohesion. He had been
given the shit end of the stick and now was the time to grab the clean end.
conversational style lends itself to an upbeat good-humoured tone. This surprised
me when I first read the book; I'd anticipated more bitterness. Yes, he does put
across his side of events and the personality clashes, his feelings about John
and his own departure from the Sex Pistols are crystal clear, yet the difficulties
are not the driving force here, mere pit stops.
journey, which took Glen from schoolboy musical influences into the subversive
world of McLaren, and eventually into one of the most influential bands in the
world, is remarkable in many ways, yet Glen adapted to all the developments, and
began to thrive in the ever-evolving environment. It was only when difficulties
continued with John did Glen decide compromise was no longer on the agenda.
book paints a stark and oddly nostalgic picture of London and the UK in the early
70s, a bleak backdrop providing a contrast to the excitement and energy of McLaren's
shop. The Sex Pistols were not an overnight success who blew in from nowhere.
Glen describes in detail the gradual progression, and divulges a mine of information;
Wally Nightingale, Steve's thievery, the search for a singer, the exploding punk
scene... all bases are covered. Any doubt as to Glen's song writing input is also
laid to rest with detailed recollection of the band's compositions.
updated 2006 edition leaves the original text intact, and adds fascinating and
detailed information on the Filthy Lucre Tour. The tale of Glen contacting Steve
in the USA in' 95 and the pair then visiting John in his Venice Beach home is
hilarious. They then call Paul
volume of new material and fresh anecdotes, unheard anywhere before, gives the
book a new lease of life, making it a must-have. The triumphs and misgivings of
the reunions (Crystal Palace 2002 falls into both camps) are given a balanced
airing. There are still, and I imagine will always be, differing opinions within
the band, and Glen does not shy away from these. And yes, the Hall Of Fame is
not dodged either. It's his book and he gives his opinion.
bottom line? Simple. If you're reading this review you're visiting God Save The
Sex Pistols. If you're visiting this site you are interested in the Sex Pistols.
If you are interested in the Sex Pistols, you need the 2006 edition of I Was A
Teenage Sex Pistol.
by Phil Singleton (October 2006)
to Buy I
Was a Teenage Sex Pistol
WATTS - A Life In Music
Ron Watts (foreward
by Glen Matlock)
Heroes Publishing £7.99
and roll, that's what this is all about. Ron's love of it. An only child, brought
up during the war with American Forces radio as a backdrop, Ron developed a keen
interest in music that would shape his life. Drawn to rock & roll and the
blues, his enthusiasm is evident by the number of legendary stars that he managed
to see in their prime: Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry,
Cliff, plus a host of lesser names. However, it was a record by Jimmy Witherspoon
that he cites as his greatest influence.
overwhelming feeling that runs through the book is one of a struggle; a struggle
between his love of music and his attempts to live a regular life. Something always
happened to tighten the grip music had on him. An unplanned appearance on stage
singing one night was one such event: before he knew it, he had his own band,
Brewer's Droop, who became RCA recording artists no less. However, it is as a
promoter that Ron is most celebrated. Ron reflects on his time promoting bands
at the White Hart and the Nag's Head in High Wycombe, and of course, most famously,
at the 100 Club in London. He recalls with considerable clarity the early days
at the 100 Club and the growing reputation of the club. The oncoming musical sea
change could be detected by the success of Kilburn & The High Roads and Eddie
& The Hot Rods at the club. Then there was the time in February '76 when Ron
went to Wycombe Technical College to see the social secretary about a stripper
he was booking for them. Screaming Lord Sutch was playing that night, so Ron popped
in to watch. The Sex Pistols were on stage. It would change his life.
remembers with vigour the emergence of punk and the central role played by the
100 Club. There is plenty of fresh insight into the early punk gigs, the famous
Punk Festival, the band infighting, and the violence. Throughout the book, Ron
shows little bitterness towards anyone, save two people: Ray Russell at the Nag's
Head, and a certain Sid Vicious, whom Ron actually banned from the 100 Club, but
later relented when his mum came to see him, begging Ron to let him back in, "It's
all he lives for." Ron shares his thoughts on all the main punk "stars",
and gives honest opinions on pretty much everyone on the scene. The Pistols, The
Clash, The Damned (whom he briefly managed), The Jam, X-Ray Spex, Generation X,
the list goes on.
no longer in the music business; his current work colleagues have no idea about
his history. Perhaps this respite has given Ron time to reflect. I'm glad it has.
It hasn't been an easy road - failed marriages, music business hassles - but this
book oozes enthusiasm and passion for music. It could only be written by a man
who simply loves rock & roll.
by Phil Singleton (September 2006)
Look - Adventures
in Rock and Pop Fashion
been out of print for some time, The Look
- Adventures in Rock and Pop Fashion,
has been given a new look of its own and is back on the shelves. The 2006 edition
includes a CD featuring music from eleven of the fashion trail blazers referenced
in the book such as Elvis Presley, David Bowie, Boy George, and of course Malcolm
McLaren. Of particular interest to visitors to God Save The Sex Pistols, the new
edition has a striking 3 page spread of Seditionaries clothing with each item
accompanied by informative text. Keanan Duffty's work with the Sex Pistols is
with a forward by Malcolm McLaren, The Look takes us on a global journey
charting the ever changing and constantly evolving links between pop culture and
fashion. Author Paul Gorman has literally traversed the world, assembling a fascinating
insight gained by tracking down the very people who helped shape fashion in their
starts where else, but Memphis in the 1950s where none other than Elvis Presley's
clothier Bernard Lansky, now in his seventies, recalls an unknown Elvis pressing
his nose against his shop window staring at the clothes within. The story criss-crosses
the Atlantic throwing up a few surprises along the way, such as the influence
of American jazz musicians on late Fifties UK fashion. Equally fascinating are
the memories of The Beatles' tailor Dougie Millings, who was at the centre of
the early Sixties look, and included in his list of clientele, Adam Faith, Warren
Beattie, Gerry Marsden, Cliff Richard, and The Small Faces. Famous primarily for
the round-collared suits, such was his importance to The Beatles, he was often
in their company in the recording studio and even ended up appearing in A Hard
Day's Night. As the Beatles themselves moved into the more outlandish clothing
designed by Tommy Nutter, so Pop found itself in the colourful early Seventies
in which the seeds of punk fashion were sown. One fashion pioneer of this period,
Tommy Roberts, would later become a victim of the thievery of future Sex Pistol
Steve Jones and Wally Nightingale, an act Roberts has never forgiven.
recalls the influence of King's Road shop Mr Freedom on his growing interest in
pop fashion and the King's Road itself. McLaren's talent for courting trouble
was evident from the moment he first moved into 430 The King's Road, taking over
a part of the store to sell refurbished radios, records and clothes. Having struck
the deal in the absence of the shop's owner, he was to find his stock thrown out
onto the pavement when the owner returned! Although the history of the McLaren
and Westwood legacy has been covered elsewhere, here it's refreshingly stripped
of the intrusive 'benefit of hindsight' pseudo political trappings, and concentrates
on the evolution of the fashion itself. This allows many nuggets of information
to surface such as the failure of the Vive Le Rock T-shirt (made in 1972)
to sell, and subsequent conversion of the stock into pairs of knickers. This is
made even more amusing by the knowledge that in 2001 a pair of these knickers
sold at Sotheby's for £1,175!!!!
addition to McLaren, the one person who in the best position to provide the inside
view on both 430 The King's Road and the birth of the Sex Pistols, is Glen Matlock.
Himself a former frequenter of Mr Freedom, Glen recalls the shop's evolution from
teddy boy gear outlet into a fetish and bondage store. Matlock himself helped
erect the giant Sex sign. The influence of The Faces on the formation of
the Pistols is well-documented, but Matlock also reveals the Sensational Alex
Harvey Band had served a purpose by not only highlighting McLaren's business paranoia,
but forcing him to look beyond the clapped-out New York Dolls for something else...the
In many ways
the only true competition for Sex was Acme Attractions. With its origins in the
early Seventies, it had become a popular underground clothing shop years before
the emergence of punk. The rivalry between the two was such that Vivienne Westwood
once ejected Sex regular Phil Strongman from her shop on the grounds that he worked
In the years following
punk, the New Romantic scene emerged, aided and abetted by New style magazines
such as The Face and i-D. Changes within pop fashion would take place at an ever
increasing rate, taking in such styles as the late Eighties acid house look, and
Nineties gangster rap. However, none would ever quite match the excitement, nor
remain so fixed in the memory, than what was perhaps the Pop and Rock's defining
fashion moment, punk rock. The one time that, as McLaren remarks; 'fashion
seemed to be the place where music and art came together.'
primarily at those with an interest in music fashion and style over the past 50
years, The Look does not rely on a view from afar, but draws from the personalities
who really were there. It's a fascinating read, painstakingly assembled, and packed
full of ancedotes from all eras of music. For aficionados of Pop & Rock history, The Look will prove to be an essential reference for many years to come.
by Phil Singleton (2001, revised/updated June 2006)
SWEAR I WAS THERE: THE GIG THAT CHANGED THE WORLD
by Independent Music Press on June 4th, 2006
first version of this book followed in the wake of the Granada Television documentary
of the same name. This time around, version two digs deeper, provides more revelations
and delves into the psyche of those who swear they were there.
what is it all about? In a nutshell, two students would invite the Sex Pistols
to Manchester, a move that would transform the local music scene in the city forever.
The students in question would become better known as Pete Shelley and Howard
Devoto, founder members of the Buzzcocks.
television researchers pulled together an impressive array of participants who
really were there. The book itself brings together original interview transcripts
recorded for the show along with brand new interviews, all linked by informative
and insightful explanations and information. In this respect, the book works well
and is structured to allow the story to unfold in a documentary fashion.
with a forward by Howard Devoto, we get to hear of his trip to London with Pete
Shelley in search of Malcolm McLaren's shop and the subsequent invitation they
made to the Pistols to play in Manchester. This they would do twice, on 4th June
and the 20th July 1976, both at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. If, however, Howard
didn't have the use of a friend's car one particular weekend it's likely they
would never have made it to London and the whole musical revolution in Manchester,
if not throughout Britain, might never have happened.
impact of the Pistols on Tony Wilson (then the presenter of 'So It Goes' on Granada)
led in turn to the Pistols appearing on the show. One interesting snippet (which
wasn't mentioned in the documentary) is the confirmation that the end of the Pistols'
performance of Anarchy In The UK had been doctored prior to transmission, by the
director, Peter Walker. Why? The reasons are all here.
second edition of the book seemed inevitable. The documentary coupled with the
first book led to more interest and more revelations. Important parts of the jigsaw
have now been filled, with important additional input from Steve Diggle, John
The Postman, and (thanks to www.sex-pistols.net), the elusive Solstice, the support
band at the June 4th concert, who had hitherto been impossible to find.
from the likes of Glen Matlock, Jordan, Mick Rossi and Wayne Barrett (Slaughter
And The Dogs), Tony Wilson, and many more involved at either the live shows or
'So It Goes', provide a sense of balance as the sea change caused by the Pistols'
first appearance at the Lesser Free Trade Hall swept all before it, including
the truth in some cases. Often highly amusing (Clive James gets a good trashing!)
the book contains some stunning rare photographs that originally appeared in the
long forgotten fanzine, Penetration. These pictures help bring the accounts of
the night to life. Just check the cover shot - a crowd of confused and bemused
punters look on bewildered as the Sex Pistols turn the world upside down.
the subject being scrutinized like never before; no myth is taken for granted.
An inspired piece of work that will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in the
Sex Pistols, punk rock, or the birth of the Manchester music scene.
by Phil Singleton (May 2006)
Collections - Sex Pistols
Reynolds and Hearn £12.99
even now, something new and worthwhile turns up. The Rex Pictures archives have
been trawled, and the result is a collection of the familiar, the classic, the
rare, and the unseen.
story of the band accompanies the pictures, but hard-core fans will be most interested
in the photographic content. There is a lot on show here to please even the most
avid aficionado. The shots are reproduced without interference from intrusive
text, apart from those at the start of the book's chapters. Personally, I'd rather
have no titles splashed across any pictures, but as so few are affected, this
is only a minor niggle. For once, in a book of this type, the pictures are accurately
captioned (with assistance from your favourite website).
the photographs themselves. The September '76 Seditionaries promo shots by Richard
Young look particularly good as full page pictures. My own particular favourites
include John from Woods Centre, Plymouth, December '76; an early shot of Paul & Steve (page 44); a youthful Glen and Steve (p 22); & an equally youthful
Paul & John (p 25). I have to give a special mention to the picture of Steve
with Olivia Newton-John, one of my teenage dreamgirls. The book does not just
focus solely on the 1970s; it includes pictures from 1996, and John's 2002 Cobden
Club press conference, plus a post-Pistols selection which acknowledges the influence
of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood.
a couple of days of the book going on sale, I received an email from a very happy
purchaser, who summed up the book as "classy." A very accurate description.
by Phil Singleton (October 2005)
Future - Sex, Seditionaries and the Sex Pistols
Bracewell, Andrew Wilson, Paul Stolper.
Published by The Hospital £18.99
for God Save The Sex Pistols by David Nolan (June
film do you prefer, the Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle or The Filth and the Fury?
No thinking, just answer. I'm a Swindle man myself ...this book is
aimed firmly at the Filth and the Fury merchant. Serious stuff, no laughing at
some, Punk Rock is Pistols/Gen X/The Vibrators/shitty PVC pants bought mail order
from the back pages of Sounds
for others its Situationism/Andrew
Logan/Peter York and a most unsavoury, fetishist interest in the clothes, tickets,
flyers and hankies
no really hankies
of mid-Seventies punk and pre-punk
ahoy! This is the book for you.
notes is a lot to shell out for a couple of thousand words of text and a lot of
photos of tee shirts and tops that look largely the same, but its lovingly
done. Put together to accompany an exhibition in 2004 at London art-space The
Hospital, it has a new lease of life after the show was expanded and
moved to URBIS in Manchester.
nothing else, it contains the single best description I have ever read of the shock horror that some of the Sex/Seditionaries clothing created.
When pinpointing the Cambridge Rapist tee shirt the author writes
To imagine their impact now, one would have to think of a Chelsea
boutique selling an exquisite shirt printed with the face of Ian Huntley.
on, my friend.
more, its good to see Helen Wellington-Lloyds pre-Jamie Reid contributions
put into correct context on the design front, very funny seeing Sids Anarchy
in the UK handkerchief up close, and a pleasure to see the animation cells
of Rotten from the Swindle cartoon scenes
oh and Im mentioned
on page 125!
its one for people who would rather frame their old album covers and ironically
hang them in their toilets rather than actually listening to them on a gramophone
Lydon - The Sex Pistols, PiL, & Anti-Celebrity
Music Press £12.99
on from John's profile-lifting jaunt on I'm a Celebrity, it comes as no
surprise to find this latest book in the stores. Ignore the 'Sex Pistols' reference
in the title, it focuses on John's post-Pistols (reformations apart) career, covering
in detail his varied fortunes in PiL and his solo output and collaborations. It's
a competent account, without offering any new insight into John's character.
author has underpinned his account using quotations from press cuttings and TV
appearances. This approach offers a trip down memory lane for those who recall
much of the information presented, and allows for an informative if straightforward
tale, without much of the baggage that comes hand-in-hand with a "benefit
of hindsight" account.
odd strange inaccuracy does however occur, such as passing off Belsen as
a song "written by (just) Steve Jones and Paul Cook
", that John
allegedly included in PiL's early shows to give fans "a bad rendition of
one of their (Pistols) worst songs". The latter point may be open to debate,
the first is simply incorrect.
'Celebrity' fans of John will find the book a useful companion to CDs they may
have bought, and it will help them put the music into an historical (and career)
context. Young fans will learn much, older ones less so, although there is interesting
interview material with Keith Levene who is in reflective mode.
coverage of the mid-80s period was particularly interesting as John found himself
without a 'group' for the first time, the end result being the brilliant LP, Album.
The brief reminiscences by Steve Vai of the recording of Album are an excellent
inclusion. Reading the book reminded me of the many great innovative records John
has produced, and the enjoyment of hearing them for the first time; Public Image,
Metal Box (surely JR's best ever work), Flowers Of Romance, Love Song, World Destruction,
Rise, Open Up, all of which sound fresh today.
author's own opinions follow pretty much the established view of John's highs
and lows, with no radical deviations. The 250 pages seem, if anything, not enough
as there really is so much to cover. The narrative therefore moves quickly, and
gives fairly equal amounts of coverage to the different points in PiL's history.
not grounding breaking, John Lydon - The Sex Pistols, PiL, & Anti-Celebrity,
is a thorough, entertaining precis of John's career post-1977.
by Phil Singleton (January 2005)
Anarchists Are Pretty - The Early Days of the Sex Pistols
Helter Skelter £12.99 / $19.95
offering is certainly different to previous books on the Sex Pistols. Best described
as fiction based on fact, it attempts to tell (a hypothetical version of)
the story of the band from Glen hooking up with Steve & Paul in 74, through
to 76 culminating with the Bill Grundy show.
author has gone to great lengths to research dates and times to accurately reflect
events surrounding the coming together of the group, while striving to name check
every 'punk personality' and concoct situations in which to place them. It's bursting
at the seams with gigs, rehearsals, song writing disagreements, and shenanigans,
with just about every conceivable anecdote shoehorned into the story. On this
basis alone it is to be commended.
attempting such a tale, it is difficult to walk the line between plausibility
and the desire to write what, as a fan, you'd wished had taken place. This is
the book's drawback as Mick even writes himself and his friends into the story,
thereby crossing the line into fan fantasy. The author has set out to have fun
with the subject, but this has resulted in an attempt to make almost every quotation
a punch line. Many of the passages would have benefited by simply removing the
the plus side, all the band conflicts you'd expect are present, and known events
faithfully retold. In a strange way, it reminds me of 12 Days On The Road,
the book based on the 78 US tour, which was marketed as a factual account, but
most of which was clearly fiction. Only Anarchists Are Pretty is the reverse
of that. A fiction book loaded with facts.
own feelings are mixed, but there are those out there who will enthuse about it.
Clearly a labour of love, it's a unique and brave new attempt to provide a different
slant on a familiar story. Whether it works for you depends on your enjoyment
of fiction based on fact accounts. Don't expect any revelations, but if
you like the Sex Pistols it will pass an hour or two on a long train journey and
bring a wry smile to your face. Give it a go and decide for yourself.
by Phil Singleton (November 2004)
- The Art Of Dying Young
Sanctuary £12.99 / $17.95
Paytress has avoided re-treading the familiar route and chosen to come at the
subject from a new angle. Whether or not dying young should ever be considered
an art, Sid, with the benefit of hindsight, does appear to have achieved that
very feat. This viewpoint is consolidated in this account by Sid's persona being
conveyed as evolving into an ever more disturbed state as events seem to sweep
him along, with his knee jerk reaction often being a violent one.
starting point of the book, and the single most pivotal moment in Sid's transformation
from "Sex Pistols Superfan" to "Punk Psycho", is laid squarely
on the 100 Club glass throwing incident. From this point onwards things would
never be the same for Sid.
confused youth "who didn't know who he was", is an opinion that resonates
through the testaments and insights gleaned from an impressive cast of interviewees.
Portrayed as a scarred, frightened, seemingly complex yet set in his ways from
an early age, this account left me feeling punk and the Sex Pistols was the worst
thing that could have happened to Sid. This is more tragic due to the warmth that
a lot of his friends and associates still show towards him, his humour and honesty
at odds with his psychotic sensibility.
has drawn from a mixture of sources, some which may prove familiar to readers,
but it's the fresh input that shapes the book into an authoritative account. Simone
Stenfors, for instance, has some telling recollections; her memories of Sid's
first show as a Pistol highlighting the difficulties that would dog the group
until its demise. The level of violence displayed by Sid still makes for shocking
reading, with such actions developing into an everyday response to a situation.
accounts are not taken at face value, and a more balanced truth emerges as a result.
For example, the idea that Sid spent a lot of time practising, as claimed by some,
is debunked, with a lack of discipline preventing him from achieving any great
heights in his role of musician.
the most compelling part of the book, is its conclusion. Sid's final days in New
York are described first hand by amongst others, Eileen Polk, Jimmy Zero (Dead
Boys), Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys), Bob Gruen, Howie Pyro, Kate Simon, Mick Jones,
Joe Stevens, and the late Arthur Kane. No conclusions are drawn, but the observations
convey a pitiful picture, as Sid stumbles from his arrival in New York, via shambolic
gigs at Max's, Nancy's death, and his own inevitable passing. He is recalled along
the way in a wide range of terms, which only serve to underline his complexity, "totally cool", "a victim", "no direction", "a
full maintenance guy."
is best summed up by the author: "Punk was loud, demanded to be noticed,
was all about the big gesture, and that's what Sid excelled at." The Art
of Dying Young illustrates this perfectly, and is recommended as one of the best
books on the subject.
by Phil Singleton (October 2004)
Of Punk - Photos from the Vault
Manic D Press
in a while, in amongst all the re-packaged, re-released products, comes a real
nugget. Legends Of Punk showcases the work of photographer Rikki Ercoli, focusing
on the late 70s / early 80s US punk scene, starting with Sid Vicious at Max's
Kansas City. In the book's forward, Rikki recalls his time in NYC, briefly getting
acquainted with Sid and Nancy. The remainder of the book is text free, allowing
full enjoyment of the images.
will find a treasure trove of unseen black and white pictures within the 116 pages.
These include striking atmospheric shots of Johnny Lydon with PIL, plus Steve
Jones & Paul Cook as The Professionals. Steve is captured with his best perm
while Paul has long hair!
highlights include The Clash, Ramones, BowWowWow, plus Debbie Harry looking stunning
as per usual. Worthy of particular note are shots of Jah Wobble, Siouxsie and
the Banshees, and American originals, Richard Hell and Stiv Baters. Additionally,
second generation UK punk bands such as The Exploited and GBH are pictured during
some of their earliest visits to the US.
is a superb unmissable publication. A genuine 'new' product. Purchase & enjoy.
Available via amazon.com.
by Phil Singleton (November 2003)
- Too Fast To Live
Creation Books £11.95
2nd Feb 2004
come clean; I was never a fan of Alan's earlier book Sid's Way. I clearly
recall walking into WH Smith, expecting an in-depth biography, but being greeted
by a picture book, accompanied by inaccurate text. That was 12 years ago.
feel a number of points need addressing while reviewing Vicious - Too Fast
To Live. Firstly, do we need another book on Sid? Secondly, what more is there
to learn? Thirdly, the Press for the book labours on the 'revelation' of the identity
of Nancy's killer, using this as its primary selling point. So does it deliver?
answer to the first point, Vicious - Too Fast To Live, will hopefully consign
Sid's Way to history. This time, it looks like a serious piece of
work! Thankfully, Alan has decided to portray Sid as a less than perfect human
being, and goes as far as to discredit parts of his earlier book, including debunking
some of Anne Beverley's attempts to make her son appear more 'special' than he
actually was. Sadly, as the author admits, it's the passing away of Sid's mother
that has allowed him the freedom to be more honest about his subject.
more is there to learn? Much of the taped interviews conducted with Anne Beverley
for Sid's Way had hitherto remained unheard. Alan draws on these to colour
the tale with Anne's view of events. However, by using straightforward quotations,
it's clear that these are not necessarily the author's view. The book is all the
better for this. You won't find any earth-shattering shocks, but it makes for
interesting reading, if only to witness how a mother tries to make sense of the
tragic events, while simultaneously trying to build up her son into an icon. Perhaps
to ease her own sense of guilt.
also pleasing to see some rare photographs, including some appearing for the first
time in print. There can't be much left out there to source.
who did kill Nancy? Well, I'm not going to be the one to tell you! The book does
name a suspect & gives credible reasons for doing so, including hearsay confessions.
The bottom line is, no one can ever be sure. The key players are dead. It's one
mystery that will continue to fascinate, but ultimately remain just that
mystery. Worthy of note is an interesting hypothesis suggesting the alledged culprit
may also have had a part to play in Sid's death.
- Too Fast To Live is what a Sid biography should be. Honest & succinct.
Surely the last word on the saga?
by Phil Singleton (November 2003)
Picture© Creation Books. (Reproduced with permission)
Save The Sex Pistols - A Collector's Guide To the Priests Of Punk
Plexus Publishing £15.99
with author Gavin Walsh
took so long?!
could give you a multitude of answers to that one ... let me narrow it down. Firstly,
I think any collector will agree that the amount of information is quite substantial
and acquiring this involved contacting 1,000s of collectors and dealers worldwide.
Couple that with extensively travelling the globe for the elusive stuff and in
some cases merely information on that same elusive stuff. Secondly, I am also
involved in business, so a lot of my time is spoken for. Thirdly, I have other
keen interests, so at the end of the day it was a matter of dividing out as much
time to compiling the book as was humanly possible.
this amount of information, and insuring its accuracy, must have been a daunting
prospect. What inspired you to take on such a mammoth task?
simple. I am a fanatical collector / hoarder, and first and foremost, I absolutely
love the band and all they stood for.
you set yourself any parameters on what to include, or did you think "to
hell with it, I'll put everything in it!"?
absolutely right (but yet not!). Whilst the book is a "Sex Pistols"
book, and as such covers practically everything by them, the publisher declined
for it to be a "completist Pistols and all things related project" for
obvious reasons. What I mean is I had zero parameters. I could be regarded as
a "completist collector" whereby I collect absolutely anything by or
related to the band, for instance, from the obvious (PiL) to the downright ridiculous,
for example, when Paul Cook's daughter won a baby competition, I collected the
newspapers of the day!
hindsight I agree with the way it went. For the book to be in any way a commercial
success (publishers like to recoup their production and printing costs) it had
to centre on the band and yet not run into hundreds of pages. So by-and-large,
given the sheer amount of information and time gone into the book, I feel we got
I'll do the ultimate and produce the "Completist Guide to Collecting the
Sex Pistols". In addition to listing all the Pistols, it'll list things as
bizarre as McLaren's Round the Outside from Zimbabwe! Given that GSTSPs
took over 24 years, CGTCTSPs will probably take another 24, (no wait, it'll be
self-published so make that 48)... so don't hold your breath fellow completists.
by Phil Singleton
Destroy - Sex Pistols 1977 by Dennis Morris
Creation Books £17.99
Now available to order from
just in time for the Jubilee (both the Queen's and the Sex Pistols'), is Dennis
Morris's acclaimed set of Sex Pistols pictures.
photo collection begins shortly after the arrival of Sid Vicious within the ranks.
He had unparalleled behind scenes access to the group, resulting in an unmissable
collection of stills. Many of the now established shots of the Sex Pistols were
taken by Dennis. However, it's the numerous less familiar shots which are far
excellent stills from the video shoot for God Save The Queen provide a sharp contrast
to the sweaty, cramped, chaotic scenes at concerts in Sweden, Coventry, Wolverhampton,
Brunel University, and Penzance. The excitement that those packed, tiny gigs generated
is captured in sharp focus, making you wonder how the band survived. Yet behind
the scenes they appear surprisingly relaxed. The pictures of the Thames boat trip
manage to capture the feel of the day by focusing not just on the band, but on
other characters present on the boat, not forgetting some unlucky punters on the
dockside who didn't quite manage the trip!
Dennis's photos have been made available on a number of occasions previously,
those who already own this collection will have no hesitation in recommending
it to those who don't. (This new edition is a reprint of the 1998 issue with a
new cover, plus an interview with Dennis, and an unpublished shot of John in Jamaica).
It may sound a cliche, but no fan's collection is complete without it.
by Phil Singleton
Books. (Reproduced with permission)
Colegrave and Sullivan
Cassell and Co. £35
15th October 2001
on thumbnails for enlargements
comes of age. The same company that bestowed such lavish care and attention on
The Beatles Anthology book have turned their attention to punk. In many ways it
seems odd that a musical movement which has its origins firmly rooted in DIY,
should, a quarter of a century later, find itself the subject of the same treatment
as John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
the whole concept isn't as out of place as it might first appear. As well as the
music, the primary reason that punk remains fixed in the public consciousness
is down to the visuals. With such care and attention being put in to the clothes,
graphics, and general presentation in punk's formative years, it is somehow fitting
that 25 years after the event, Cassell and Co. have decided there is enough interest
to give images, both pictorial and graphic
from this era, the presentation they deserve. The high prices that original
Punk memorabilia currently fetches in auctions illustrates the phenomenal interest
in the visual side of punk rock.
the subject matter already having been covered thoroughly (England's Dreaming,
Satellite, Rotten, I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol etc), new ways to approach punk
are becoming harder to find. An up-market publication was perhaps inevitable.
the book is simply stunning. Rare and unseen photographs abound. Of course, many
often seen yet essential images are included, but wherever possible, previously
unpublished pictures are used even when illustrating a well-known event. The researchers
have gone to great lengths to avoid rehashing the same old photos.
book is split into years, beginning with '1975 (and before)' and concluding with
'1979 (and onwards)'. If a line has be drawn on the original punk period, this
is a sensible point at which to attempt to tie things up, albeit loosely (although
the merits of 'James White and the Blacks' are, however, unconvincing).
author's note reads: "the content of this book is largely based on original
interviews conducted by the authors. The authors have also drawn on previously
unpublished research from The Filth and the Fury... and from original interviews
with Warhol Factory figures.... A small proportion of material from other sources
has been included, mainly to give voice to those now deceased."
this basically means is the story unfolds via sound bites from punk personalities.
There is no theorising or attempts to validate what is being said. What you get
are memories (or an individual's preferred memories). It's up to the reader to
decide who is telling it as it was, and who perhaps is not!
interviews accompany the appropriate visuals as the story unfolds on both sides
of the Atlantic with punk roots being traced back to the likes of Lou Reed, Iggy
Pop, David Bowie and through the gradual metamorphosis into what we know as punk
via artists such as the New York Dolls. I guess we all know the story, nevertheless
the list of those sharing the early memories is nothing short of impressive; Lou
Reed, Jayne County, Tommy Ramone, Danny Fields, John Holmstrom, to name but a
The book really
comes to life once the Sex Pistols appear. The images of the band and their entourage
are striking, but perhaps just as telling are the ones of McLaren's shop itself
and its products. As well as celebrating the more visible aspects of punk rock,
the authors delve into the underbelly of drugs and sex. Needless to say, Steve
Jones comes to the fore (no pun intended) on this subject.
the major groups from the punk explosion both in the UK and USA are given coverage
proportional to their influence. This means of course that the Pistols rightfully
get the lion's share of attention. From the heady days of 1977 through the disintegration
in '78 to the death of Sid Vicious in '79, the oft-told story of the group has
been given a new lease of life thanks to fresh insights accompanied by the rare
the most fascinating photos are those taken following the Pistols split in '78;
Jones with Ronnie Biggs in Rio, Rotten in Jamaica, Vicious in body bag, all fascinating,
if for vastly different reasons. However, the most eye-opening picture is that
of Jones, Vicious, and Cook, taken on the ill-fated American tour. Draped over
a car, all three seem happy and relaxed in each other's company, with no hint
that within a week it would all be over.
is so vast, it's not possible to do it justice in a couple of sittings. It's a
book you'll find yourself returning to time after time, if only to ensure there's
no photos or interviews you may have missed. I'll close the review with a quote
that stood out on first sampling the book: Steve Jones; "Sid really looked
the part but couldn't play, and now we could." In retrospect, few would argue
that this was the beginning of the end.
may be those who feel a book costing £35 and running to 400 glossy pages is contradictory
to the spirit of punk. Shed your ideologies and embrace. You can't afford not
to. Punk has come of age.
by Phil Singleton
Pictures © Cassell and Co. (Reproduced with permission)
BANG WALLOP! Photographs
of the punk explosion
Abstract Sounds Publishing
other photographers of the punk period, Ian Dickson did not learn his craft taking
the pictures on show in 'Flash Bang Wallop!', he was already an established rock
photographer. His experience was most in evidence in his ability to capture the
less obvious images which the passing of time would prove to be of equal importance.
Witness the crowd gathered for the Sex Pistols Notre Dame concert in November
'76. Ian managed to sense that not only were the band important but the effect
they were having on their followers would prove to be almost as far-reaching.
What makes this particular set of photographs even more unique is that they captured
the band just prior to the subsequent media invasion, after which things could
never be quite the same.
not just the photographs of the Pistols which make this collection so important.
All the prime movers that followed in the Pistols' wake did not escape attention.
There are many pictures within the collection which have become rock standards
in their own right, and many previously unseen photographs which are just as striking
as the more familiar. The Clash, Ramones, The Jam, Buzzcocks, Blondie, The Stranglers,
The Damned, X-Ray Spex, Rich Kids are just some of the legends from '76-'78 captured
by his lens.
collection itself comes with endorsements from many of the characters featured
within it. Proof positive of the respect with which Ian's work is still regarded
by those who are potentially the most critical of all - the artists themselves.
a further insight into Ian's work and as a taster of 'Flash Bang Wallop!', visit
Sex Pistols - In Pictures.
Essential Punk Accessory
20% discount is available by quoting 'God Save The Sex Pistols' when ordering.
To order, call 44(0) 20 8749 9171 or email email@example.com
Almost a quarter
of a century on, the legendary punk rock fanzine has now been made available for
everyone to see. Like many long-lost artefacts, there is a risk that its re -appearance
could tarnish the myth. Not so with Sniffin' Glue.
the importance of this material, rather than a straight forward reprint of the
original fanzine, the first 136 pages comprise of interviews with both Mark Perry
(the man who started it all), and Danny Baker (who took over at the helm when
Mark became involved with other projects, mainly his own band, Alternative TV,
and record label, Step Forward).
story that unfolds is perhaps one of the finest examples of achievement via the
DIY punk ethic, outside of the music that inspired it. Perry "I was a prime
candidate for punk rock, a bored bank clerk who loved rock music but didn't know
how to get involved", had called in at his favourite record shop asking if
there was a magazine about the Ramones. It was suggested that he start one himself.
and Baker debunk a number of stances adopted by punks in 1976/77, namely the Year
Zero mentality. They both admit that they enjoyed a lot of the music that predated
punk; why else would they want to become involved with music? However, with established
groups becoming more distant coupled with the arrival in the UK of the Ramones,
Perry and others were galvanised into doing something. Baker also raises a smile
as he talks about the necessity of keeping his punk rock lifestyle separate from
his comfortable home life.
success and influence of Sniffin' Glue over its 12 month existence cannot be underestimated.
From an initial run of 50 copies for its first issue, by the time Perry called
it a day, major record companies thought it important enough to place full-page
first section of the book is augmented by some excellent photographs of the main
players during this period, many of which have not seen print previously. Sex
Pistols, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Ramones, they're all here.
second section faithfully reproduces every issue of the fanzine in all its original
glory. At this point the book switches from glossy to a poorer quality paper totally
in keeping with the original. It works well.
fanzine mirrors the punk scene as it unfolds. Other than the Ramones there is
little else of this new-music for Perry to report on in his first issue. Hence
we get a retrospective on Blue Oyster Cult. The pub rock scene is also featured
heavily in earlier issues, re-affirming its place in the seeds of punk, (Joe Strummer's
pre-Clash 101er's get their single reviewed in issue 1).
even in issue one, Perry cannot suppress his enthusiasm to make things happen
and to get involved: "London's got a scene goin', we don't need New York,
we've got it here. The Sex Pistols, Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Damned... to name
but a few. We've got to make something happen here."
did happen, and happen quickly. The excitement runs throughout the early issues.
The 100 Club Punk Festival, "New Rose", "Anarchy In The UK",
they are all covered as it happened.
an ever-increasing number of groups appearing almost overnight, quality-control
became more difficult. Enthusiastic reviews of groups such as Subway Sect, Cortinas,
and others, have not necessarily stood the test of time. But that's not what this
it hit the mark, it hit dead centre. Issue six: "No way are the Pistols gonna
be filed under: Pop Groups. EMI will have to think up a new one 'cause this is
the time for change. The Sex Pistols are gonna break all the rules. They'll bring
about a change that will make the outlook for British rock music very exciting...The
Pistols are the most important rock group in Britain at the moment... They've
chucked out the most relevant rock single since "My Generation". "Anarchy
in the UK" is the title, and when it gets heard it will startle, surprise
and shock... They are going to give the music scene what it needs - a good kick
up the throat."
the issues progressed, and punk became bigger, the inevitable disillusionment
set in. The Editorials began to display a frustration with the stereo typical
punks now emerging and secondly, with attacks on the fanzine by those who presumably
regarded it as a threat. Later issues also saw a leaning towards more arty musicians
(i.e. John Cale, Jonathan Richman etc). With Perry now heavily involved in his
Step Forward record label, an element of nepotism creeps in as the fanzine understandably
plugs his label's releases.
the final issue Danny Baker pins his hopes on Sham 69. History would prove otherwise.
By contrast, Baker 's rant about the sheep-like behaviour displayed at the Vortex
club following the announcement of Elvis Presley's death, was a throwback to the
individuality and energy that started it all.
Perry called time on Sniffin' Glue in August 1977, having unknowingly created
a small piece of cultural history.
listening accompaniment, try the following CDs;
- The Image Has Cracked (Anagram CD PUNK 24)
(Incl. Step Forward singles) - Terrorist Generation (Beaky Records CCSCD 355)
20% discount is available by quoting 'God Save The Sex Pistols' when ordering.
To order, call 44(0) 20 8749 9171 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
by Phil Singleton
Filth and the Fury
The companion to the Fine Line Features documentary film $13.99
Day-Glo will cover leads you to automatically think that this companion to the
movie has been put together without much thought.
quick flick through the book does not bode well. The appallingly laid out black-and-white
presentation, complete with poorly reproduced stills from the movie, will no doubt
result in many casual readers putting the book straight back on the shelf.
this would be a great shame. Presentation aside, the book is not without merit.
The book basically
reproduces the interviews conducted with the band for the film. It also includes
the interview Julien Temple conducted with Sid Vicious in Hyde Park in 1978. The
story of the Pistols, by the Pistols.
those that have seen the film it will act as a reminder of the many fascinating
and often hilarious thoughts of the band, and for those yet to see the film, if
you read the book first, dont expect any surprises at the Movies!
book has so far only been released in the US, and if it is subsequently re-released
elsewhere, the publishers could do with spending a great deal of time and effort
in giving this publication the presentation it deserves.
great read, shabbily put together.
by Phil Singleton
Satellite, Vacant, Rotten, 12 Days On The Road, England's Dreaming, The Wicked
Ways Of Malcolm McLaren, I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol, Lipstick Traces.